Homeless in National Parks

This reality, as reported by the New York Times, can also be found in our Parkway, sadly; and the paragraph in bold is so pertinent in relation to the homeless services mall surrounding the Parkway in the 12th Street/Richards Blvd/Woodlake/North Sacramento area which clearly exacerbates the illegally camping in the Parkway.

An excerpt.

NEDERLAND, Colo. — Gerald Babbitt lives in these woods, in a pop-up trailer on cinder blocks that he bought for $250. His toilet is a bucket, and when he and his wife need to refill their water jugs, they drive their creaky green Jeep a mile down the mountain and into town. Most people are kind, but the other day someone called them “homeless vagrant beggars,” Mr. Babbitt said.

“Yes, we’re homeless,” he said, sitting in the shade of his camper here in the Arapaho National Forest. “No, we’re not vagrants. No, we’re not beggars. We just barely are making it. What you see is by the grace of God.”

To millions of adventurers and campers, America’s national forests are a boundless backyard for hiking trips, rafting, hunting and mountain biking. But for thousands of homeless people and hard-up wanderers, they have become a retreat of last resort.

Forest law enforcement officers say they are seeing more dislocated people living off the land, often driven there by drug and alcohol addiction, mental health problems, lost jobs or scarce housing in costly mountain towns. And as officers deal with more emergency calls, drug overdoses, illegal fires and trash piles deep in the woods, tensions are boiling in places like Nederland that lie on the fringes of the United States’ forests and loosely patrolled public lands.

“The anger is palpable,” said Hansen Wendlandt, the pastor at the Nederland Community Presbyterian Church.

Some residents have begun taking photographs of hitchhikers or videotaping confrontations with homeless people camping in the woods and posting them online, including on a private Facebook page created recently called Peak to Peak Forest Watch. Some say the campers have cursed at them for driving past without picking them up, or yelled at them while they were cycling or hiking. They say they no longer feel comfortable in some parts of the woods.

But as a homeless man named Julian, 30, hiked down from the hills and into Nederland one rainy afternoon, guitar and knapsack slung on his back, he said a passing driver yelled at him to get out of town. He said he, too, felt uncomfortable and was heading toward Estes Park, Colo., then on to Oregon. He did not give his last name because he said he did not want friends and family reading that he was homeless.

Mr. Wendlandt serves lunch and hands out socks to needy campers every Thursday. But he has stopped provisioning people with blankets and sleeping bags, worried that what seemed like compassion could be exacerbating a problem.

A wildfire in July was a tipping point. Two men from Alabama pitched camp without permission on a privately owned hillside near Nederland, lit a campfire and read their Bibles, they told the Boulder County Sheriff’s Office. The men told officials they put some rocks on the fire to put it out, and though they discussed whether they should do more to smother it, they decided not to.

One smoldering cigarette or lightning strike can ignite an entire hillside in the parched, fuel-filled forests across the West, and officials say the campfire galloped away and burned 600 acres of canyons and forests around Nederland. It destroyed eight homes, including that of a fire captain.

About David H Lukenbill

I am a native of Sacramento, as are my wife and daughter. I am a consultant to nonprofit organizations, and have a Bachelor of Science degree in Organizational Behavior and a Master of Public Administration degree, both from the University of San Francisco. We live along the American River with two cats and all the wild critters we can feed. I am the founding president of the American River Parkway Preservation Society and currently serve as the CFO and Senior Policy Director. I also volunteer as the President of The Lampstand Foundation, a nonprofit organization I founded in 2003.
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