There is a New York Times Newspaper article going around the net that has thrown a lot of people into confusion and fear. Numerous people have sent me the link and asked me if I thought this was the end of our way of life–vandwelling on Public Land. They told me that they had been planning to buy a van and move into it, but after seeing stories like these, maybe they would change their minds and give up on that dream. Hear is a link to the story.
To summarize it, it’s the story of a few towns in Colorado, where the National Forests backs right up against the town and homeless people are living very close to town and creating problems for the local folks. They often leave terrible garbage piles and some are mentally ill and even appear dangerous. To make matters worse, they routinely miss-manage their fires and create Forest Fires very close to town. Overall, they are a problem for the town and apparently creating a lot of fear, loathing and anger.
When people write me, they ask these questions:
- Is this a game-changer for us?
- Should I abandon my plans to become a nomad?
- When I read something like this should I make major decisions based on it?
Absolutely not to each of those questions!! This is just more nonsense! It’s pure sensationalism to sell more advertising and create a climate of fear!!
Some thoughts to consider:
- The homeless are only a problem in a tiny percentage of the National Forests. Once you get away from larger population centers, the problem just stops entirely because they can’t afford to get out there and back to get supplies. I’d guess in 99% or more of NF there is ZERO homeless problem!! But, the Media is going to create a firestorm about the teeny, tiny percentage where there is a problem. Just go camp somewhere they aren’t at!
- It’s already illegal to reside in the Forest and no new laws are required–all they have to do is enforce the existing laws. On one hand, I’m very surprised they have allowed this to go on this long. But the simple fact is the FS doesn’t have the budget to enforce the laws already in existence. In 2015 they spent 3/4 of their budget on fighting Forest fires and so in the Coconino NF where many of us stay because of it’s close proximity to Flagstaff, there was an obvious downturn in enforcement. Numerous people spent the entire summer camped there with nary a word from the Rangers trying to stop them.
- Homeless camps in the woods have one problem–winter! It’s too cold to try to live in most NFs in the country, and all of them in Colorado. If you don’t have money, you’re not buying propane. Come winter you are moving into town
- Snow, the majority of roads in NFs aren’t plowed in winter and are impassable. If they are occasionally passable, you never know when a storm will hit and they will become impassable, locking you in for who knows how long.
If local communities convince the local Rangers to take action, that won’t impact you and I at all. We can easily just drive a little further from towns and be all alone with no homeless anywhere in site. With less use on the Forest, there will be less Ranger activity and we’ll be left alone.
Nationally, people can cry all they want and Congress can pass more laws, but they won’t give the FS the budget to enforce it so nothing is going to change for you and I. If we go further from where the homeless are, nothing will change for us.
My Experience With the Homeless
I’ve run into the homeless in my travels and in fact experienced something very similiar to this, except it was on BLM land. When we first started camping in the Arizona desert at Ehrenberg, AZ, there were at least a dozen homeless camps on the road back to our camp. They were huge filthy messes and these people had obviously been living there full-time for years. They had towed in old RVs that could no longer be driven and had been living in them.
Apparently the County finally got tired of it and worked out an arrangement with the BLM because they came in with huge dumpsters and front-end loaders and simply scooped the entire camp up–including the trashed RV–and put it in the dumpster and took it to the landfill! That next fall when we returned, they were all gone and the place was spotless.
That whole winter there was rampant speculation about whether we would be next on the County hit-list. After all, some of our group spent the whole winter camped on one spot–although no one was there more than 5 months–and everyone kept a neat, clean camp.
I tried to reassure everyone that we were at no risk, but some just loved to fret and worry about it anyway. And I turned out to be right, we’ve camped there two winters since then and have not been bothered by anyone, County or BLM.
The simple fact is they don’t have the budget to spend much of it harassing us. If you keep a low-profile and avoid being noticed by staying remote and keeping a neat, clean camp, you aren’t going to have a problem. If you are nearer to a large population center, you can expect the 14 day rule to be enforced, that leaves you two choices, 1) follow the rule and move every 14 days, or, 2) camp further out where the Rangers are unlikely to patrol.
The bottom line is this is just more sensationalism meant to profit off of our fear and to keep us in line and obediently serving our corporate and government masters.
Don’t let it work on you!!
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