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A decent article from last week.

Cyndy Cole Wrote:"Darrell Eddleman, 54, might have a few more years to live, doctors guess.

The former trucker was diagnosed with cancer three years ago and had a lung removed, but he didn't opt for chemotherapy to eradicate the cancer.

Medical bills bankrupted him then, and he's living on disability now and facing new health problems.

Realizing that his time was limited, he made a pitch three years ago to Rose, 52, the cosmetologist from Prescott and Phoenix that he was keen on: "They gave me six years to live and I'm going to enjoy it. Want to come with me?"

Darrell and Rose found a camper, a van to pull it, and some solar panels for power. Now married, the Eddlemans live out of their recreational vehicle in forests around the Southwest with their dog, Freeway, and have seen a lot of the country.

They now hike and visit with other campers.

She paints.

He fishes.

"I like this lifestyle a lot," Rose said.

Just one problem, in their view: The Kaibab National Forest doesn't want them around and is recently stating as much.

Actually, living in the forest is illegal, say Forest Service officials, pointing to federal law.

These are campers around Flagstaff you might not recognize as technically "homeless" -- living out of old motorhomes, vans and recreational vehicles year-round.

Law enforcement officers estimate hundreds of them live on the Coconino, Kaibab and Prescott national forests, traveling to the low desert closer to Yuma in the winter.

Some of these campers say finances leave them no other choice; others say they wouldn't want to spend their retirement years any other way.

Here are some of their stories.


Coconino National Forest Supervisor Jim Golden signed an order in 1999 limiting those camping at large on the Coconino National Forest to 14 days of camping in any month, to give others a turn, and to allow the land a chance to recover.

So after two weeks around here, seasoned campers know they have to go somewhere else for 16 days.

Dallas and Barbara Haacke are grandparents, former hotel cleaners and occasional camp hosts for a number of campgrounds over past years. They've lived in a motorhome for years.

Dallas is disabled, and both rely solely on Social Security for income.

They rent movies from the Flagstaff library as one form of entertainment.

Dallas, 72, and Barbara, 64, admitted that they were a day or two over the two-week limit when a law enforcement ranger came into their camp on the Kaibab National Forest on July 22, each side in the matter states.

But they actually got a $275 ticket for something else: "residential use" of the forest.

Federal law prohibits building or "occupying or using a residence" on national forest land.

This was new to them.

"It wasn't 14 days," Dallas said, puzzled and upset. "That's what the limit is."

Dallas, Barbara, Darrell, Rose and two other campers all report negative interactions with one particular forest law enforcement officer, speaking at their camp north of Munds Park.


Darrell and Rose report the same law enforcement officer told them to relocate shortly after Darrell was discharged from Flagstaff Medical Center following a stroke,

They told the law enforcement officer their circumstances; he told them he'd ticket them if they didn't leave at once, they said.

"If we was trashing up the place or tearing up stuff or burning the forest down, I can see why they'd want to give us a ticket, but we don't bother nobody," Darrell said.

Law enforcement officers referred requests for interviews to Coconino National Forest spokesman Brady Smith.

"(Barbara) also said that she had moved from the Coconino (National Forest) and then back to the Kaibab (National Forest) after he had warned her that this activity was residential use. Based on all that information, (the officer) issued her a citation," wrote Brady Smith, spokesman for the Coconino National Forest.

The problem, say the Haackes, is a seasonal sticker on their motorhome allowing them to camp on Bureau of Land Management land near Quartzsite, northeast of Yuma.

The officer zeroed in on the sticker, realized the Haackes were living in their motor home, and cited them accordingly. The ticket was later reduced to $100.

This treatment is unfair and a form of discrimination, they say, particularly when other presumably wealthier campers with homes come and go from campers that sit for months and face no penalties.

"We're normal people," Dallas said. "We just live in the woods."

$600 A MONTH

Susan Armstrong, 66, is a disabled mom, grandmother and great-grandmother who lives on less than $600 per month in Social Security benefits received after her husband's death.

That's less than $7,200 per year, or well below the federal poverty level for one person, which is $10,890.

"There's a lot of people like that, that need help, that live all over," said Bill Packard, of St. Vincent De Paul in Flagstaff.

He sees at least one person or family in need living out a van per day, and a lot of them are retired and living on Social Security, he said.

"The truth is, they can't rent a house, pay utilities, and have a car on Social Security," Packard said.

Before his death, Armstrong and her husband used to run a repair business for trucks in Nevada, California and Arizona.

Now Armstrong lives in a 20-foot motorhome and comes north in the summer to avoid the heat near Ehrenberg, northeast of Yuma, where she winters.

"Just all I have is my motorhome," she said.


She enjoys crocheting, reading and taking walks.

But unlike some of the other retired and disabled campers, Armstrong's choice is one of necessity.

"I can't afford to pay air conditioning bills," she said. "I have to be up here because I can't take the heat."

Her children live in Idaho and Washington. She has not seen them lately.

Armstrong's limited budget doesn't allow her to buy gasoline to travel much beyond Arizona, or much else, and it's largely consumed by gasoline, propane and groceries.

"I can't afford an apartment, even with low-income housing," she said.

But she would prefer that, she said, and an end to camp-related chores, given the slipping disc and pinched nerves in her back.

"If I could afford it, I'd rather have a house," she said.

She's upset about a recent crackdown on campers like herself living in the forest, and says she has experienced what she feels is hostility.

"They tell us, anyone from Quartzsite, that we're not allowed in the forest," Armstrong said.


Sharon Klein posits: Why wouldn't a person live in a motorhome or camper?

A former health teacher, soccer coach, and interior carpenter from New York, Klein has been living in an RV in the Southwest for nearly 15 years, she said.

She contrasts this with what her life with her dog would look like if she lived in an apartment.

"We'd get up, we'd get in the car, and we'd go do chores -- just like I do now," Klein said.

She would sometimes like a home. But it would be a lot more to maintain, she said, and that would be difficult.

Klein, 68, was a teacher before heading into home construction, where she was injured on the job in 1988.

She was 45 years old at the time, and she tried to keep the injury quiet, but she hurt all the time and eventually successfully filed for disability.

She now walks with crutches wrapped around her lower arms and wears a brace on the lower part of one leg due to back problems that caused nerve damage and a wrap on the other after knee surgery. And she has arthritis.

Klein goes to physical therapy three days per week and exercises at the adult center near Thorpe Park twice per week.

She even has an apparatus she can hang on her van to adjust her spine.

All of these needs mean Klein is typically camping out in Flagstaff parking lots, where law enforcement has been accepting, she said.

It's easier than facing scrutiny in the forest, she said, and there are services.


Klein stayed in Albany, N.Y., for a few years, before moving west for sunlight and warmth.

She learned how to install a solar panel to charge a type of battery typically used in a golf cart, and how to make repairs on an RV.

In the afternoon, she and her dog often go to Fort Tuthill.

"It's just very peaceful out there. It's like camping in the forest," she said.

She has checked with Coconino County Parks and Recreation to make sure it's OK, and it is.

She enjoys cooking and watching movies in the van on rainy summer afternoons.

There are other groups of RVers in the West: Singles and ones who work professional jobs like nursing seasonally. A number of them are retired or disabled like her, Klein said.

Her biggest expense is gasoline, at about $200 per month. Food and everything else comes in at less.

She opens her van, sitting in the parking lot of the adult center near Thorpe Park.

It's an unassuming-looking large van, but it would sell for $100,000 if it were new, she said.

Inside is a shower in the center, a toilet in what looks like a closet, a microwave, a fridge, and a bed.

Notes on the dash indicate various chores, like emptying the septic tank or getting water.

"It's a viable lifestyle," Klein said, "as long as you can walk."

She thinks about what her former camping partner is probably doing right now in his home without any wheels.

He's probably there, she thinks, watching TV and sitting in one place.

Cyndy Cole can be reached at 913-8607 or at [email protected].

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