The Homeless in America's National Forests
August 22, 2016 10:23 AM   Subscribe

As Homeless Find Refuge in Forests, ‘Anger Is Palpable’ in Nearby Towns 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.
posted by pjsky (76 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
 
If only the "millions of adventurers and campers" who could afford to spend their vacations adventuring and camping could imagine and support some other way to address the needs of the poor and desperate.
posted by mhoye at 10:37 AM on August 22, 2016 [54 favorites]


I have little sympathy for those that want to complain about the homeless utilizing public property to try to survive in a society where, for the most part, the wealthy care little and do less to help them turn their lives around.
posted by HuronBob at 10:44 AM on August 22, 2016 [50 favorites]


The Boulder County Sheriff’s Office was called there 388 times last year, up from 213 in 2013...officials attribute some of the rise to Colorado’s reputation as a mecca for legal marijuana, and Nederland’s embrace of retail marijuana dispensaries.

And here I thought regulation would finally kill off this "marijuana makes you a dysfunctional social outcast" myth.
posted by theraflu at 10:54 AM on August 22, 2016 [2 favorites]


This is what you get when your only goal is tax reduction.
posted by blue_beetle at 10:56 AM on August 22, 2016 [65 favorites]


The Boulder County Sheriff’s Office was called there 388 times last year, up from 213 in 2013...officials attribute some of the rise to Colorado’s reputation as a mecca for legal marijuana, and Nederland’s embrace of retail marijuana dispensaries.

If you're in a state with legal marijuana, and then you go and name your town "Nederland", you're kind of asking for it.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 10:58 AM on August 22, 2016 [2 favorites]


Here in Portland, Maine so many services have been cut in favor of whatever crony make-work Gov. LePage has going that there's a one-street area left on the peninsula with basically all the services a homeless person can find. Not surprisingly, they congregate there, and now that condos are going up the police and media and etc etc are making vague noises about "dealing with the issues of Oxford Street". Meanwhile the police are busting up a camp in the forest behind the local Lowes, supposedly they are going to "help people find housing" but even the cops admit that doesn't work.

It's like we don't want homeless people to exist, but we don't want to pay to help them and we can't quite bring ourselves to line up firing squads. America!
posted by selfnoise at 10:58 AM on August 22, 2016 [50 favorites]


Mr Snagsby descends, and finds the two ’prentices intently contemplating a police constable, who holds a ragged boy by the arm.

“Why, bless my heart,” says Mr Snagsby, “what’s the matter!”

“This boy,” says the constable, “although he’s repeatedly told to, won’t move on—”

“I’m always a-moving on, sir,” cries the boy, wiping away his grimy tears with his arm. “I’ve always been a moving and a moving on, ever since I was born. Where can I possibly move to, sir, more nor I do move!”

“He won’t move on,” says the constable, calmly, with a slight professional hitch of his neck involving its better settlement in his stiff stock, “although he has been repeatedly cautioned, and therefore I am obliged to take him into custody. He’s as obstinate a young gonoph as I know. He WON’T move on.”

“O my eye! Where can I move to!” cries the boy, clutching quite desperately at his hair, and beating his bare feet upon the floor of Mr Snagsby’s passage.

“Don’t you come none of that, or I shall make blessed short work of you!” says the constable, giving him a passionless shake. “My instructions are, that you are to move on. I have told you so five hundred times.”

“But where?” cries the boy.

“Well! Really, constable, you know,” says Mr Snagsby wistfully, and coughing behind his hand his cough of great perplexity and doubt; “really, that does seem a question. Where, you know?”

“My instructions don’t go to that,” replies the constable. “My instructions are that this boy is to move on.”

posted by Frowner at 10:59 AM on August 22, 2016 [99 favorites]


I'm as saddened as everyone else here that the question being asked is "How do we get rid of these homeless people?" instead of "How do we get ride of homelessness?"
posted by DirtyOldTown at 11:06 AM on August 22, 2016 [23 favorites]


If only the "millions of adventurers and campers" who could afford to spend their vacations adventuring and camping could imagine and support some other way to address the needs of the poor and desperate.

A lot of them probably do. Wilderness portal towns are often pretty liberal. Doesn't mean they want (or can handle) the entire burden of the homeless population concentrated from a much larger area, though.

Also, some of wilderness residents are more sovereign citizen types who think it's their right to live that way and wouldn't want or accept help.
posted by Mitrovarr at 11:11 AM on August 22, 2016 [21 favorites]


I'm as saddened as everyone else here that the question being asked is "How do we get rid of these homeless people?" instead of "How do we get ride of homelessness?"

Because one of them is a problem that would require political power on a state or federal level, and the other is probably solvable on the level of a town. You can support housing for the homeless on that level, and still not want them to burn down your house. Which is what happened.
posted by zabuni at 11:13 AM on August 22, 2016 [15 favorites]


I have little sympathy for those that want to complain about the homeless utilizing public property to try to survive in a society where, for the most part, the wealthy care little and do less to help them turn their lives around.

I'm not going to hold out for an actual fix to the problem of homelessness in the U.S. any time soon. I'm wondering though if the residents near popular illegal camping areas might be willing to contribute to compromise solutions that limit the damage being done.

Illegal fires and trash piles are the consequences of people being forced to live without any services. What would need to happen to give these folks, say, a central, sanctioned, trash disposal area (that gets serviced by the city/state/county/feds/whater)? If the fires are being used for cooking/heat, can we provide safer substitutes?

If we can get to the point where the "locals" don't see homeless people as a dangerous menace literally trashing and burning down a public resource, maybe work to provide more comprehensive support might not be so anathema?*

*hahahah... probably not, but it's worth a try.
posted by sparklemotion at 11:16 AM on August 22, 2016 [7 favorites]


Presumably we need to re-introduce the Spike.
posted by praemunire at 11:17 AM on August 22, 2016 [1 favorite]



If only the "millions of adventurers and campers" who could afford to spend their vacations adventuring and camping could imagine and support some other way to address the needs of the poor and desperate.


If we're going to assign blame, assign it to the town police departments that harass the homeless into moving on to places like the national forests, something that starts nowhere near the forests themselves.

And the voters and taxpayers who support those police departments.
posted by ocschwar at 11:18 AM on August 22, 2016 [19 favorites]


I found this article interesting from many different angles. Initially I thought how heartless people who have never been poor can be, then I read the part of the story of two homeless guys camping on private property. They lit a campfire, read their bibles, failed to put out the fire properly and it caused a forest/canyon fire that destroyed 600 acres and 8 homes. You can be compassionate towards the homeless and still angry that you now live under increased threat of wildfires.
posted by pjsky at 11:19 AM on August 22, 2016 [22 favorites]


if you're gonna build in the forest, you're gonna have forest fires.
posted by entropicamericana at 11:25 AM on August 22, 2016 [2 favorites]


Homeless folks live in practically every park in Victoria BC—wherever there is underbrush, and so on.

A recent crisis involving a tent city prompted the state-level government to devote, in a hurry, a bunch of money for shelter space, which should alleviate the problem. However, nothing much is being done about the root causes of homelessness.

For example, nearly every kid right now who is in state-sponsored care (foster homes, etc) will likely end up homeless. It's a crisis that is never going to stop.
posted by My Dad at 11:26 AM on August 22, 2016 [7 favorites]


I mean, the thing is that people have to live somewhere or else die. That's the hard fact. And some people are going to do fool things - non-homeless people do fool things, and people who are at the end of their rope are far more likely to do fool things. (Picture that it's been months since you got a night of really deep sleep, maybe years since you were able to have your teeth cleaned or see a doctor so you've got all kinds of minor nagging health crap, years since you had clean clothes that fit, and god knows how long since you had more than one nutritious meal in a row, plus you have almost no control over your life - you don't make great decisions.)

If you know that people have to live somewhere, and some of those people are going to do fool things, you have to plan for that even if you don't like it. Or you'll get fires and trash heaps and violence and disease. Saying that you don't want to deal with the planning or the problems is like saying that you don't want to deal with being tired but you're damned if you'll go to sleep. (Just like a toddler who won't lie down, actually.)
posted by Frowner at 11:27 AM on August 22, 2016 [45 favorites]


The NYTimes article seems to be a condensed version of two longer articles that ran this summer in the Boulder Daily Camera, before and after the Cold Springs fire:

Camping crisis: Some western Boulder County sites under siege

Cold Springs Fire a painful confirmation of Nederland-area residents' fears

One of the most notable changes was how the NYT simply talks about "trash" when the issue is equally trash and uncontained human excrement at these sites. I don't know if the NYT just found that too gross but it definitely gives the impression that locals are just bothered by some blowing debris, which I think understates the issue.

I live right down the mountain from Nederland and grew up in a very similar mountain town about 40 miles away and I think this is a lot more complicated than "rich people hating on the poor."
posted by iminurmefi at 11:29 AM on August 22, 2016 [21 favorites]


Also, of course, it would be very helpful if there could be (more?) national initiatives and funding to deal with homelessness. It seems ridiculous that LA or somewhere relatively warm, or places with forests, have to pay for services and people in cold or less appealing areas pay much less. That just places much more of a political burden on certain locations and that breeds resentment.
posted by Frowner at 11:33 AM on August 22, 2016 [17 favorites]


Thank you, Frowner. Well said.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 11:34 AM on August 22, 2016


As someone who enjoys the wilderness and spends a lot of his free time on public land doing one thing or another, I am totally fine with my fellow citizens who happen to be homeless also using that land. They should comply with the regulations for the use of that land like anyone else, but in many areas the regulations are pretty mellow and there's nothing illegal per se about staying out there. That's what public land is for, and as far as I know there's no law that says you can only camp out if you also have a house to go back to when you're done.

I also have friends who are park rangers, and who are sometimes forced to tell homeless people that they can't camp in this or that place, or that they can't do such-and-such a thing where they're staying. To the best of my knowledge, the practice at least in my area is to redirect them to somewhere where they are allowed to camp, and to educate them about the regulations for the area where they're staying such that they can continue to be allowed to stay there (as long as they are able to modify their behavior—I realize that things like mental illness and drug addiction create big challenges there, but that's not a public-lands-specific issue).

There are places in the US where if you're careful about what you do you can indeed "live off the land" to a pretty great extent. They tend to be remote and you have to be careful about your impact, but they're there. Even further in, there are lots of more easily-accessible campgrounds where a person may stay for weeks at a time either for free or while paying only a nominal fee.

I was a park ranger myself for a couple of summers in Boston Harbor, and there was a couple who would spend their whole summer out there, doing a series of two-week stays (the maximum allowed per person per summer) on each of the available islands at a rate of $10/night or whatever it was at the time. They didn't quite come out and say it, but the impression everyone got was that they didn't really have anywhere else to go. They were courteous campers though and obeyed the regulations, so as far as we all were concerned they were using the islands as intended.

Now, I realize that there are still issues involving people using the land in ways that it wasn't intended to be used—massive encampments, people staying for longer than they are allowed to, trash and human waste building up, etc. These are not problems caused by homeless people using public land, but rather problems caused by the fact that we have so many homeless people in our country to begin with. I actually think there is a lot of room for a conversation about whether we could make our public lands more accommodating of people without permanent homes—whether some places could be opened up to longer visitation times, whether we could spend money on improving waste disposal facilities, things like that—but it's not a problem that can be solved from within the public land system. That's a problem that needs to be solved by society as a whole, and until we do that we're going to have those kinds of issues in lots of places, not just on public land. On a personal level, I just try to be sympathetic toward folks who are having a rough time and to clean up messes when I can without getting all righteous about it.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 11:42 AM on August 22, 2016 [36 favorites]


Nederland is tiny, the kind of place people describe as quaint. It's pretty much a bunch of old hippies up there, and they are pretty overwhelmingly liberal. I'm not super crazy about some aspects of that culture (although they're better than Boulder), but it's not a bunch of wealthy conservatives NIMBYing.

And we really have had a reported uptick in ill prepared people moving to Colorado for the legal marijuana. I met one kid downtown who was just fucking livid that he came here for, and I quote, the "free weed," and was having a hard time making a go of it. I don't think he was even old enough to buy pot legally here. But that certainly fit in with some of the accounts I read from shelters about 'marijuana refugees' moving here without really thinking through what they'd do once they got here. Some of them don't even know it snows here.

BTW, I don't think those Alabama guys were homeless. I had the impression they were here camping, and didn't pay attention when people told them that this climate is a lot drier than they're used to. If they were in fact homeless, that's not what people were mad at them for, at any rate. They (we) were mad about the part where they started a massive wildfire.
posted by ernielundquist at 11:43 AM on August 22, 2016 [23 favorites]


Mitrovarr: Wilderness portal towns are often pretty liberal. Doesn't mean they want (or can handle) the entire burden of the homeless population concentrated from a much larger area, though.

And this has been the main thrust of how to get a handle on this rapidly-growing problem. Cities are discrete entities, able to affect little outside of their borders. (That's often by design. A large city usually has smaller cities ringing it because those cities were incorporated specifically to prevent the large city from exercising governance in those areas.)

So when a city decides to clean itself up but do so in a charitable, humane way, three things happen: 1) The people who need help most often get it, at least in some fashion; 2) More people see that help is available in that city so they, whenever possible, come to it; 3) Surrounding cities are able to say "well, problem solved, we'll just tell our police departments to pack those folks off to that city that is foolish enough to pay for such things while we take the tax money we would have spent and invest it in parks, libraries, roads, and a whole bunch of other things that help our city leaders get reelected, all the while we can now tut tut at what a horrible place that other city has become."

Lather, rinse, repeat—something a person without a stable residence often can't do, mind—at the various levels of government until we arrive at a state or national crisis.

Incidentally, what I've described is happening in at least three cities with which I am familiar. Seattle, where I live, and its residents are becoming slightly more irritated with paying so much money into our social services—and increasing that support through more levies—while surrounding cities quite literally drop their homeless off in downtown (because that's where the county jail is and the "delivering" police department isn't required to hang around to transport the person back to where he or she was arrested) and then give Seattle hell for being so "dirty" and "unsafe." Dallas is having a similar crisis, right down to the homeless encampments underneath freeway interchanges, and its suburbs are doing the exact same thing. And even Dublin, in Ireland, is headed down the rabbit hole.

So it comes as no shock to me that the disenfranchised and marginalized are moving to areas where they're more likely to be left alone. And it also doesn't surprise me that current residents of Colorado (or anywhere) are saying, "hey wait a second, what the deuce?"
posted by fireoyster at 11:46 AM on August 22, 2016 [8 favorites]


And then there's Utah. Working on a basis of, "how can we spend less on homelessness," they have changed their approach.

NPR link

I live in Fayetteville, NC, certainly no example of high housing prices, but you literally cannot live on our minimum wage ($7.15/hour, which is criminal), and in fact, you can't even live on the $15/hour I make after working for the same company for 10 years. (I wish I was joking.) Imagine what life in CA or CO is like. Now imagine having some kind of medical/mental health/family situation which impedes your ability to work, or a substance abuse and/or criminal record that makes you essentially unemployable. How do people NOT end up homeless?
posted by corvikate at 11:49 AM on August 22, 2016 [13 favorites]


The US will have shanty towns like much of the rest of the world if the policies that concentrate wealth and capital (and thus opportunity) into fewer and fewer hands continue unabated. It sure is interesting to live in an un-developing country.
posted by nikoniko at 11:51 AM on August 22, 2016 [30 favorites]


It seems ridiculous that LA or somewhere relatively warm, or places with forests, have to pay for services and people in cold or less appealing areas pay much less. That just places much more of a political burden on certain locations and that breeds resentment.

To be fair, places that don't have a climate that is hospitable to living outdoors tend to have a financial incentive to invest more in keeping the barely-homed in homes.

Obviously it's not perfect -- there are homeless people in MN, I but doubt* energy customers in LA see their heating bills inflated to cover the costs of people who can't afford to keep their houses warm in the winter**.

*If there's a hot-state version of Minnesota's Cold Weather Rule, I'd be curious to hear about it.
**I am not complaining about paying this cost, I'm just saying that it's there
posted by sparklemotion at 11:51 AM on August 22, 2016 [1 favorite]


Hell, I was semi-homeless myself for nine months or so in between my summers on the islands, and wound up spending a month and a half living in an off-season campsite out in the Willamette in Oregon, living out of my tent and my smashed-up minivan and just trying to conserve my cash as much as I possibly could so that I could get through the winter and make it back to the east coast for my next seasonal stint in the harbor. Eventually the season changed, more people started using the area, and a ranger came by to tell me that I had to move along. But they let me stay out there, for free, for much longer than the official two weeks that were permitted, and even when they pushed me off they were kind about it.

Of course, if I'd been trashing the place, cutting down trees, or other visitors had been finding evidence of drug use or something like that then I'm sure I'd have had to leave faster. But there's a definite space there for at least some people to use public lands when they have nowhere better they can go, and I'd argue that that's as it should be. Homeless people are perfectly capable of being good stewards of the land, and I should know because I've been there myself.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 11:52 AM on August 22, 2016 [27 favorites]


My town now has a sanctioned encampment right by the police station. There's port-a-potties, a couple hand washing stations and people have their tents up. Frankly, the Union Gospel Mission serves food which makes people sick and there'es bed-bugs there. Also enforced religion, and people, mostly women and girls run the risk of being raped there. So the encampment compares pretty favorably. Another thing, it is impossible to get into public housing here until you do hit the streets now.
Staying in some of the cheaper housing here is pretty bad. I went canvassing and I saw some really terrible places. Frankly the owners should be ashamed to charge rent on some of these places. One place stank of bed-bugs, or death. Frankly I wasn't sure which. Again, the encampment is probably healthier.
Regular garbage pick - up of trash, port-a-potties, a hand washing station and proximity to the police station probably all help.
Towns could do that and cut out the middleman. A LOT of tax money goes to places like Union Gospel Mission or the Salvation Army. These are religious organizations and as such should not get tax money.
Cities could buy up 'nuisance properties' like hotels and motels which are really drug markets and brothels, clean them up and use on-site managers and shelter people indoors.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 11:53 AM on August 22, 2016 [18 favorites]


Surrounding cities are able to say "well, problem solved, we'll just tell our police departments to pack those folks off to that city that is foolish enough to pay for such things while we take the tax money we would have spent and invest it in parks, libraries, roads, and a whole bunch of other things that help our city leaders get reelected, all the while we can now tut tut at what a horrible place that other city has become."

The myth that urban homelessness is primarily the fault of suburbs using cities as dumping grounds has been around since at least the Depression (when LA's mayors complained that surrounding cities and states were shipping their vagrants to LA because of the favorable climate) and is no more true now than it was then.

High rates of homelessness in wealthy cities like Seattle and Dallas (despite tons of money spent on social services) are primarily an effect of the skyrocketing cost of housing nationwide, helped along by gentrification, and the chronic and historic lack of affordable housing stock, along with the increasing trend (at least in my city) toward landlords converting available housing stock en masse into short-term Airbnb-type rentals for affluent tourists, not an effect of surrounding suburbs shipping their homeless there.
posted by blucevalo at 12:13 PM on August 22, 2016 [6 favorites]


All this talk about trash and how the trash is unsightly, unsanitary, etc . . . I'm surprised the article didn't mention the real issue with trash piles in Colorado national forests, which is BEARS. Especially if food scraps are being left in the same place over a long period of time, you WILL get BEARS. It's pretty scary to consider that if some of the homeless people are from out of state, they may not know that.
posted by ostro at 12:15 PM on August 22, 2016 [14 favorites]


IME the trash in national parks is not due to homeless people living there it's suburban teenagers who go out, ride their quads over everything, shoot off a bunch of fireworks and leave behind 300 cans of Natty Ice.
posted by Lutoslawski at 12:18 PM on August 22, 2016 [16 favorites]


And here I thought regulation would finally kill off this "marijuana makes you a dysfunctional social outcast" myth.

This is certainly a myth from a strict singular cause point of view. Plenty of people with better put together lives than I have use it. At the same time, people I know who've studied the effects clinically say the evidence suggests there are real dangers for lasting negative impacts on adolescents. Including triggering schizophrenia, which by some estimates is a cause behind up to a third of chronic homeless cases, to bring it back to the topic.

Our current war-on-drugs policy apparently does little to check this and makes a lot of things very much worse, so it has to go, but there are reasons to be concerned about what impacts we're going to have to face with decriminalization or legalization.

Governments seems to be slavering at the potential revenue stream from various regulation fees. I'd be a lot more comfortable with that particular potential addiction and the way that borders on incentivizing the state to encourage use if most of the revenue went into mental health research and services.

And if we got better at mental health research and services in general. Along with the rest of the safety net we seem to struggle with.
posted by wildblueyonder at 12:18 PM on August 22, 2016 [3 favorites]


I totally agree with you there, Katjusa. Under the (terrible, fucked-up) circumstances, having a city's homeless population more or less concentrated in a tent city is one of the least-worst options I can see (short of, you know, giving them homes). That way it's easier to provide them with necessary services, waste can be collected and disposed of, people have at least a little bit of shelter and privacy (a tent is no house, but it's a damn sight better than a park bench or a heating grate), and—for better or for worse—law enforcement can keep an eye on things so that at least in theory the residents can be protected from rape, theft, and assault. The residents can also retain their autonomy and dignity, unlike if they are relying on shelters for their overnight housing. The expense to the city is minimal. In the absence of better alternatives, such encampments should be encouraged and supported rather than destroyed.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 12:19 PM on August 22, 2016 [8 favorites]


There used to be a fellow named George Aberle who lived in the Hollywood Hills. Specifically, he had a little encampment under the first L in the Hollywood sign. He was part of a large community of disaffected drifters who washed up in Hollywood in the 1940s. A lot of them lived in the Hills, working part-time at a natural food restaurant and otherwise living off the land, taking nuts and fruits from trees in the wild and sleeping under or up in trees.

These guys called themselves Nature Boys. They were sort of proto-hippes. In fact, George wrote a song about them. Somehow he got it to Nat King Cole, who recorded it. It was on the Billboard charts for 15 weeks and is now considered an American classic. George was calling himself Eden Ahbez by that point.

Would have been sort of a shame if somebody had told him to move along.
posted by maxsparber at 12:32 PM on August 22, 2016 [4 favorites]


blucevalo, my experience doesn't match yours. Or, rather, doesn't completely line up because I think your reasons are also causes of this madness. But here in the upper-left corner of the US map, it does happen that the surrounding cities "export" their problem to Seattle, intentionally or not. If someone is arrested for a minor crime in, say, Bellevue or Redmond (most often having a failure to appear warrant being issued for some other minor citation, like "sleeping in a park after closing hours"), that person is transported to the King County Jail in downtown Seattle. Once that person is booked and, if necessary, has appeared before a judge, he or she is released but not into the waiting arms of a Bellevue or Redmond police officer to take the person back to the point of arrest. The exit is onto the downtown streets of Seattle.

Add into this that someone is far more likely to be arrested or ticketed in the surrounding cities of Seattle for "sleeping on a park bench," or "loitering," or any one of a hundred different petty crimes. But that same person isn't likely to be arrested inside the city under a policy of not criminalizing homelessness. And, conveniently, most of the other cities in King and Snohomish Counties don't have housing and social service tax levies nor are there homeless shelters or other services in them.

While the policy may not be overt, the outcome is.

Another anecdote: I take transit to and from my job on the Eastside. Most often, I'm riding the last bus back to Seattle on a given night. Fully 20% of the occupants of that full bus are demonstrably homeless. A few of those folks have told me they are going back to Seattle because staying on the Eastside at night is a great way to have all of your stuff thrown away by the police when you're hauled off to jail.
posted by fireoyster at 12:34 PM on August 22, 2016 [17 favorites]


Coming back to the actual topic at hand, I suspect a lot of the problems with homeless people staying out on public land would be solved if they were better at camping and knew how to manage their campsites in such a way as to stay within the bounds of the law. If a homeless person knew that they could research a campsite at the local library or on a smartphone or by asking a ranger at an information station, and if they knew things like how long they would be permitted to stay in a given place, how to crap in the woods without making a mess, how to collect firewood without ruining the vegetation, how to safely manage a fire for warmth and cooking, that they need to keep their trash in a garbage bag and stuff it into the first trash can they come to on their way out of the site—things like that—then they could very likely spend a long time hopping from campsite to campsite for very little money. That's not as good as not being homeless, but it's better than a lot of ways people find to scrape by.

I suspect that many homeless people—particularly people who are more on the living-out-of-a-car end of the scale rather than the everything-I-own-is-in-these-shopping-bags end—are already doing this. It's certainly what I did for a few months there. Many homeless folks already own things like warm clothing and sleeping bags. I would guess that it's only the people who never learned to camp, or who have some overwhelming issue in their life like a mental illness or a drug addiction that makes it hard for them to function, who are doing the kinds of things that get you kicked out of a campsite.

Even drug use is pretty easy to get away with at most campsites, as long as you're functional enough to conceal it. Generally speaking, park rangers don't care very much about what you are doing out there as long as you're not trashing the place or doing it right in front of them. They know they don't have the resources to be everywhere all the time, and that people are going into the woods to do all kinds of stuff. They prioritize. If you're not doing any harm and you can maintain plausible deniability, your behavior is not going to be very high on their priority list.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 12:46 PM on August 22, 2016 [8 favorites]


If we're going to assign blame, assign it to the town police departments that harass the homeless into moving on to places like the national forests, something that starts nowhere near the forests themselves.

Signed. A lot of the people camping in national parks aren't all that well-off themselves either; a spot in a campground is cheap, about a third the price of your average hotel, so a lot of the campers have taken that route because on the whole, a camping weekend is cheaper than Disneyworld or something.

People who camp in national parks aren't all RV-driving Gore-Tex-clad hipsters or anything.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:46 PM on August 22, 2016 [14 favorites]


Under the (terrible, fucked-up) circumstances, having a city's homeless population more or less concentrated in a tent city is one of the least-worst options I can see (short of, you know, giving them homes).

I would say only if there is a preponderance of support. The problem with Oxford Street (if you see my comment above) is that many of the homeless who congregate there have substance abuse problems and concentrating them in one place in the absence of adequate support creates essentially an open air drug market where it's extremely difficult to get clean and to get anything more than generic group assistance. But the city has made it clear that they're unwelcome anywhere else, so...
posted by selfnoise at 12:47 PM on August 22, 2016


Hell yeah, EC. Camping is cheap. That's one of the reasons why so many people do it for recreation. I mean you can make it as expensive as you want and some activities/locations require specialized equipment, but it doesn't have to be. Basic camping is much cheaper than staying at a hotel in a city, even a low-end one, and you can also prepare all your own food rather than buying pre-made from restaurants and the like, which brings the price down further. You can totally outfit yourself with everything you need including a week's worth of provisions for maybe $250 at any Wal-Mart, without even scrounging. Campsites themselves range from free up to about $20 a night, most places. It's one of the cheapest legal ways to stay somewhere that there is. That's the beauty of it, both from the point of view of someone doing it recreationally and that of someone who's doing it out of necessity.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 12:54 PM on August 22, 2016 [10 favorites]


wildblueyonger: lasting negative impacts on adolescents. Including triggering schizophrenia

No, this is all from old biased research by groups who are incentivized to demonize Cannabis use. Yadda yadda "this gene associated with susceptibility" (usually Akt1 or COMT) has largely been debunked. The schizophrenia angle is much more likely to be akin to autism - temporal association only. Kids get vaccinated about the time that autism is generally diagnosed :: adolescents start using Cannabis around the time that schizophrenia is generally diagnosed.

Use of tobacco and alcohol (time of first use, frequency and amplitude of use) are similarly far higher in schizophrenics - but no-one is screaming from the rooftops that tobacco and alcohol causes schizophrenia.

Also, reports of association of youth use of Cannabis and poor scholastic achievement/mental development has also largely been debunked using high powered and well controlled twin studies. Falling behind on scholastic achievement/mental development is more strongly associated with home life regardless of Cannabis use.

A lot of the literature decrying the harms of Cannabis use is absolutely shameful garbage when you start digging into the actual bullshit methodologies. A lot of the research has also been done by Cannabis naive investigators who don't have a clue as to what they're talking about when it comes to the acute (and chronic) psychological/physiological effects.

A sensible argument against youth Cannabis use is that youth are still developing coping mechanisms for life situations and narcotic/mood-altering-substance use should be discouraged as they may impair the development of good coping mechanisms.

You may memail me for a self link, if you're interested in references or a more fleshed out presentation.

posted by porpoise at 1:17 PM on August 22, 2016 [18 favorites]


I think the idea was, legalize it and attract you will pothead drifters to your State, not that it will turn your taxpayers into reefer zombies.
posted by thelonius at 1:40 PM on August 22, 2016 [3 favorites]


You may memail me for a self link, if you're interested in references or a more fleshed out presentation.

Self-linking is fine in comments here, and it's better to get it in-discussion.

One of my sources for concerns about adolescent health is a state toxicologist with, as far as I can tell, no personal agenda beyond doing his job well in terms of recommending policies to state officials. Perhaps I can get him to share the specific research he found notable.
posted by wildblueyonder at 2:09 PM on August 22, 2016 [1 favorite]


The references are at the end.
posted by porpoise at 2:28 PM on August 22, 2016 [5 favorites]


Nederland CO was incorporated in 1885. The 1st laws criminalizing pot in the state were put on the books in 1917.
posted by brujita at 2:40 PM on August 22, 2016 [3 favorites]


You know though, I do worry that if people start raising a stink about homeless folks camping out, parks will react unthinkingly by shortening maximum stay times at campgrounds and upping enforcement of same, and also by raising camping fees and requiring reservations more commonly.

Currently there are many places, even well-used and easily-accessible (by car) ones, where at least during the slow parts of the year there aren't really any stay limits, or if they are they're not enforced much, and where you can just roll up to an open site and set up shop without having to jump through any hoops or cross anybody's palm with silver.

That could easily change, if the park systems wanted it to. They could also prohibit camping outside of designated sites, whereas now there are many areas where as long as you are gentle to the land you can sleep mostly wherever you want. It would be a big loss to the whole public land model if we lost that—it's really kind of beautiful that there are still big chunks of the country where you can just walk wherever you want and sleep wherever you want. I'd be sad if that went away.

I just hope that if this becomes a major issue, the administrators of public lands will pursue a policy of outreach and education (toward both homeless campers and the surrounding community) rather than criminalization and harassment. I like to think that parks people mostly have their hearts in the right place and that they'll do the right thing, but my experience with society in general has made me very cynical about that.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 3:31 PM on August 22, 2016 [1 favorite]


What kind of twisted sense of privilege is able to 'get angry' about the misfortunes of others? (Who probably have good reason to be angry.)

We keep pushing the homeless out of hither and yon. These people are native Americans who don't have a 'reservation' to move into. Better that than the present callous indifference and head-in-the-sand harrassment.
posted by Twang at 5:54 PM on August 22, 2016


Everyone deserves the same access and right to use public lands, but it also has to come with some responsibility for care. I don't know if homeless people are really the worst for that -- I've seen elk camps where people left feces and toilet paper across more than an acre, along with mounds of trash -- but they are probably the most visible. The real problem is that other spaces use hostility as a way to get people to move on, leaving public lands as the only option. I see a lot more encampments these days than I used to, always in marginal land like river banks or in those weird forgotten spaces between industrial parks.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:58 PM on August 22, 2016 [4 favorites]


Maybe some kind of "reservation" for homeless people would work. And the best place for it would be in the centre of every city.
posted by sneebler at 7:12 PM on August 22, 2016


The local alt-weekly (Colorado Springs, far from Nederland) featured a similar article a few weeks ago:
http://m.csindy.com/coloradosprings/this-summer-homelessness-is-everyones-problem/Content?oid=3870437
posted by Monochrome at 7:19 PM on August 22, 2016


It sure is interesting to live in an un-developing country.

Yes it is; I think of us (US) as a devolvoping country.
posted by jamjam at 7:25 PM on August 22, 2016


We have developed this problem here locally since the city cracked down and while I am absolutely sympathetic to the plight of the homeless people the fact is they should not be living like that. Most are old, addicts and unable to care for themselves in that setting adequately. They absolutely trash the common ground, there are human feces everywhere in some local woods, and trash and rotten food. We have bears and it's a matter of time till someone gets mauled. Badly mauled, there have been quite a few encounters that ended in injury this year already. Several fires have been started by drunk homeless people in the past year. And they die at an alarming rate every time it gets cold or rains because they are older, unhealthy and usually not sober at all.

There is a another cadre of homeless that use the forest, they are basically young crusty types and they're less apt to be a sloppy mess all over the place and are more willing to keep a tidy camp. Although they tend to get territorial and it's strongly suspected that one guy poisoned several local dogs for getting into his stuff (his stuff was located in a dog park!). That guy was run off but there is at least one local homeless guy near a local trailhead that most people are afraid of. The prevalence of "spice" locally does not help as young strong people high on spice are straight up scary as many locals can attest to.

On the bright side we don't have anyone growing weed or making meth out in the woods here, our local homeless population runs to the truly indigent and sick or the hardcore addicts or passers-through. We have decent enough services that most can get off the street otherwise.

I am a local advocate for housing first and have consistently voted and worked to support it. Still not every homeless person wants to live there and some cannot for various reasons (violence, mental illness etc). But living in the forest is not a good solution.
posted by fshgrl at 9:03 PM on August 22, 2016 [5 favorites]


> I found this article interesting from many different angles. Initially I thought how heartless people who have never been poor can be, then I read the part of the story of two homeless guys camping on private property. They lit a campfire, read their bibles, failed to put out the fire properly and it caused a forest/canyon fire that destroyed 600 acres and 8 homes. You can be compassionate towards the homeless and still angry that you now live under increased threat of wildfires.

I hear you, but why are "the homeless" indicted for the same carelessness practiced by plenty of people with permanent addresses and stable incomes?

I mean, when two young women in my apartment building stupidly caused a serious fire because they were drunk and crafting by candlelight in studio apartment (hello, epoxy, you are flammable!), no one called to ban people "like them" (people in their 20s, women, crafty types, drinkers, people with curtains, whatever) from living in apartment buildings.
posted by desuetude at 9:21 PM on August 22, 2016 [1 favorite]


Some of the basic outdoor/camping rules: Pack it in, pack it out. Dig a cat hole if you need to use the bathroom. At a minimum; if it wasn't there to begin with; bury it.

Colorado txpayers seeing images of debris fields of trash and five gallon buckets full of bodily waste is not going to do square one of empathy or assist in the human nature to care for one and another.
posted by buzzman at 9:28 PM on August 22, 2016 [3 favorites]



> Why are "the homeless" indicted for the same carelessness practiced by plenty of people with permanent addresses and stable incomes?

Because the problem in Colorado is not "the homeless", but instead "transient marijuana tourists who have no income and see no need for one".

I live in a mid-sized Colorado city and we've always had a small homeless population here. We have homeless shelters and various community outreach programs, religious and secular, to help address the needs of that population.

But since marijuana was legalized, we've seen the transient population explode. We're not taking about local homeless, as in members of the community who are down on their luck and in need of a helping hand to get back on their feet. We're talking about a group comprised predominantly of 18 to 35 yr old white males from other states (the group who set fire to Nederland was from Alabama, the guy who started swinging a pipe at strangers in Denver was from Indiana) who panhandle aggressively and appear to be in our communities solely because Colorado weather is nice in the summer and weed is now easily obtained.

Last month, one of them sexually assaulted a pre-teen girl who was walking her dog through a park in broad daylight. As the father of two young kids residing in what used to be a very safe place to live, my sympathy for this group has flat run out.

Teaching them better ways to camp is not going to solve the problem. "Making rich people pay more for social services" isn't going to solve the problem. We're in the midst of an epic housing / construction boom here that has been going on for a decade, and there's been no shortage of blue collar work for someone who wanted to have a day job.
posted by blicero at 10:20 PM on August 22, 2016 [6 favorites]


But since marijuana was legalized, we've seen the transient population explode. We're not taking about local homeless, as in members of the community who are down on their luck and in need of a helping hand to get back on their feet. We're talking about a group comprised predominantly of 18 to 35 yr old white males from other states (the group who set fire to Nederland was from Alabama, the guy who started swinging a pipe at strangers in Denver was from Indiana) who panhandle aggressively and appear to be in our communities solely because Colorado weather is nice in the summer and weed is now easily obtained.

It's been the same up here in Oregon.
We've always been a stop on the transient highway, but since weed became legal, the population has increased by leaps and bounds.
This summer, the traveller groups are the worse I've seen, even in the depths of the recession.
Aggressive panhandling has always been an issue, but some parts of the downtown groups are getting out of hand.

In the forests, we have two distinctive groups.
The developed campgrounds, especially the county ones tend to have families (either homeless or down on their luck), kids, a semi-permanent population.
The USFS and BLM camps tend towards single men or childless couples. They are less permanent, as the rangers discourage long-lasting camping.
Since the recession, there has been a definite shift from the Rainbow Family and rave type camps to a more need-based, permanent underclass type of camp.
posted by madajb at 1:54 AM on August 23, 2016 [4 favorites]


Okay, let's imagine that we have the political will and money to solve these problems. If we did, I would suggest, first, a LOT of surveys and research, because it seems like there are a number of types of people who are homeless and they all presumably need and want different things.

What interventions would work well for young male drifters, for instance? I'm of a mind that most people aren't actually happy being homeless and panhandling for pot money - they may not want to get construction jobs, but that doesn't mean their lives are just gleeful loafing. What started the trajectory to homelessness for them? Did they lose their apartments? Were they just truculent and badly educated and sort of noped out of everything (like entitled jerks, admittedly, but the point here is to stop the problem).

For a lot of people, housing first programs would probably work, but different kinds. Younger, healthier people and families need different housing than older, sicker people with addictions, and the behavior/cleaning/functioning expectations are different.

For some people, some kind of licensed long-term camping might work well - back to nature types of various kinds. Bring in some sewage and water resources, make sure everyone has the weather gear they need, plug them into food stamps and medical care if they need it, etc. No sense in forcing someone who wants to live in a tent into an apartment that would do for another person.

And basically end the one-big-room-with-mats shelter model we have - they are scary and fucked up and everyone hates them that I've ever talked to.

I would want to know more about a given place's homeless population - where they come from, their age and health, what they want, etc.

Also, isn't it a disgrace that in a wealthy country people fall through the cracks and end up living in the woods? I mean, that is not something I thought I'd see as a trend in my lifetime - it's like a near future dystopia. I'm not talking about people who on some level enjoy living in the woods, I'm talking about the idea that you're someone who wants to live an average housed life and you just..fall through the cracks.

We all ought to be terrified by that - how many of us have the resources to be sure we'd stay housed if we had, let's say, a year of really bad luck work- and health-wise? I think I could hack it, and I have friends and relatives nearby, but I've known enough people who became homeless by this point that I'm not so sure.

Also, if I ran the world, I would establish sort of...like hostels or half-way houses but more like 7/8 houses? A lot of people I know who are young and/or have mental illness struggles could really use a living arrangement that was more like home but with rent-paying - simple meals provided, bills taken out of rent, a nice room and the use of common areas, someone "in charge" if there's an emergency...Basically a nice boarding house, I guess. I can think of a couple of friends with struggles whose lives would be totally transformed by being able to live in a nice boarding house, and I bet it would keep a lot of people from falling into homelessness, especially if combined with income support. And you could pay a couple of people to run the place.
posted by Frowner at 5:31 AM on August 23, 2016 [4 favorites]


Because the problem in Colorado is not "the homeless", but instead "transient marijuana tourists who have no income and see no need for one".

Is there any evidence of this whatsoever?
posted by maxsparber at 8:30 AM on August 23, 2016


Listen, I know they exist -- I lived in Hollywood, where there is a sizable crusty population. But they represented a fraction of the homeless population. They were just an extremely visible percentage of the population.

And if we're going to blame drugs for homelessness, I have seen the population explode nationally, not because of pot, but because of the opioid epidemic, which we get to take collective responsibility for.
posted by maxsparber at 8:32 AM on August 23, 2016 [4 favorites]


>> Is there any evidence of this whatsoever?

I've lived here for over 20 years and witnessed the changes firsthand, they've been quite dramatic over the past couple of years.

I'd recommend reading the Colorado Springs article that Monochrome posted. A snippet (emphasis mine):

"CSPD's HOT Team was founded in 2009, in the midst of the city's biggest homeless crisis. The recession was brutal, people were losing their homes and their jobs, and a tent city had sprung up along Monument Creek in the downtown core with more than 600 tents.

Interestingly, Iverson, one of the original HOT Team officers, speaks of that time with a touch of sentimentality. Those people, he says, wanted help.

"The majority of people out here they will tell you that they'd rather stay out here and live that way than either waste their money on rent or something like that," he says. "It's just a lifestyle choice. Or they don't have the money because of the drugs and alcohol."

posted by blicero at 8:55 AM on August 23, 2016


I've lived here for over 20 years and witnessed the changes firsthand, they've been quite dramatic over the past couple of years.

I'm sorry, but as someone who was formerly homeless, I know all too well that someone who is not part of the community, even people in organizations that come into contact with the homeless population, often don't actually know. I was asking if there were surveys or anything to confirm what you're saying.
posted by maxsparber at 8:58 AM on August 23, 2016 [1 favorite]


Listen, I know they exist -- I lived in Hollywood, where there is a sizable crusty population. But they represented a fraction of the homeless population. They were just an extremely visible percentage of the population.

There are places, like Eureka, where they are the vast majority of the population though, it is a real thing in some areas. They come to pick and trim bud, which us well paid and then their friends or partners come and it's a party and eventually you have so many transients there because of the drug scene. In Humboldt a lot of the older permanently homeless locals started out as crusty types and never reintegrated.
posted by fshgrl at 11:05 AM on August 23, 2016


They come to pick and trim bud, which us well paid and then their friends or partners come and it's a party

A transient agricultural-worker population is pretty different from "a bunch of people who don't work, don't want to work, and whose highest priority is toking up," though, as they were just characterized.

If you're going to benefit from having a transient agricultural-worker population, you need to support that population. And, yeah, some of them are going to have families.
posted by praemunire at 11:11 AM on August 23, 2016 [4 favorites]


It seems like we're talking about at least three populations here:

1.) Transient agricultural workers
2.) Families of transient agricultural workers
3.) Transient marijuana tourists, who may or may not have actual connections to the first two groups but were attracted by the "free weed" and "who have no income and see no need for one".
Friends/hangers-on of transient agricultural workers (and residents) who are attracted by the "free weed"

It's reasonable to have differing levels of kindness/animus towards the three groups, but I also think it's probably tricky to tell which legitimate problems (hygiene, fires, crime, etc.) are being caused more by each group. Similarly, talking about the needs of any of the three groups shouldn't be a denial of the existence of the other ones.
posted by sparklemotion at 11:52 AM on August 23, 2016 [2 favorites]


"Basically a nice boarding house, I guess."

If you look at the history of housing in the US, one thing that stands out is the disappearance of boarding houses. They used to be quite common. Anyone who happened to own a house which was bigger than they needed could just turn it into a side-business. These became considered nuisances, banned by laws and ordinances and zoning codes, and they've largely disappeared.

A lot of US policy toward the homeless-- toward poor people in general-- is hostile. It solves the problem by pushing it away, by making life difficult for the poor, so that they'll take themselves and their problems somewhere else. This issue of homeless people living in national forests is noteworthy, because it's a sign of how successful these policies have become-- they've managed to push people out of all populated areas, so that the wilderness is the least hostile place for them to go to-- and let's face it, for someone without resources, the wilderness is a pretty damn hostile place.

"The US will have shanty towns like much of the rest of the world if the policies that concentrate wealth and capital (and thus opportunity) into fewer and fewer hands continue unabated."

The US has proven quite adept at preventing shanty towns. Shanty towns would actually be an improvement at this point...
posted by alexei at 12:39 PM on August 23, 2016 [5 favorites]


Hi, another Coloradan here. Sure, we're seeing marijuana tourism and an attendant amount of transients, but that housing boom blicero mentioned isn't going hand in hand with affordable housing, at least not in Denver/Boulder. The median home price right now is $400,000. The fact that outsiders are pouring in due to decriminalization absolutely does not give us a free pass on examining our own unique role in this problem. And, yeah, our summers are nice, which is always going to be a natural incentive. Should they be freezing to death somewhere else?
posted by zeusianfog at 1:05 PM on August 23, 2016 [2 favorites]


People who trim bud are not really "transient agricultural workers" in the traditional sense. And a lot of the grower used to only hire young pretty women so it's less families than boyfriends that they have tagging along. I lived in an area where I got pretty familiar with the pre legalization trade without even wanting to and believe me, you are giving folks way too much benefit of the doubt here.
posted by fshgrl at 1:38 PM on August 23, 2016 [2 favorites]


I've wondered when I'd see this issue covered by the media. The woods are a lot more busy than they used to be, many of the good spots I used to know already taken by well-established long term camps.

waste their money on rent

Rent is the single largest recurring expense that anybody I know pays. Unless you live in one of the corn states, even a single bedroom apartment is going to cost upwards of $500, not including utilities, food, and other survival necessities. You can buy a hell of a lot with that money if you aren't paying some landlord for the right to sleep in the same spot every night, to not get hassled by cops. I know a few people who are working homeless, they make a strong effort to blend into the normal population and you'd never know they were homeless by looking at them. They just head off to a well-hidden campsite instead of an apartment after their shift's over, and they sock away their extra cash to fund periods of unemployment.

Reducing your expenses like this is one of the few ways to claw your way ahead with the way we've currently structured American society - it's far easier for many people who are on the lower end of the income scale than increasing their wages, which have been stagnant or decreasing for decades.

The woods are the place I retreat to when I find myself wanting to leave abusive housing situations. They're where I go when I can't fight the depression I get from working for corporations any longer, when my psychology pushes me to decide between keeping my mental health intact and my ability to pay bills. When I go, I make sure that I keep a clean camp and always look like I'm just passing through. I love the solitude, being surrounded by the simplicity of nature, which has fairly clear-cut and easily understood rules. It is my freedom.

Many of the homeless folks I meet out there are on bicycles, on foot, in shitty cars that barely run with no gas money. I hate a trashy forest more than anybody, but if citydwelling assholes can't be bothered to find a landfill to haul their appliances and used tar shingles to, why do we hold those with the least to higher standards? How much would it cost to run a dumpster service and a pit toilet? Is it greater than the cost of picking up trash?

If offered the choice between living in the woods and a shelter, or even a tent city, I would 100% choose the woods. I am not afraid of bears. The predators that walk on two legs are what I fear while living outside, and the further out in the woods I am, the less likely I am to encounter them. Maybe I'd feel differently if I were male, but I've heard too many stories of theft and violence to believe it.

Fires are a real problem, but a lot of the time the people I see who are most irresponsible with fire are normal campers. The yokels on their ATVs who treat the woods as a shooting range, the high schoolers out for a drunken bonfire party on a Friday night, people who would say things like, "it's not REAL camping if I can't have a campfire, so what if there's a fire ban!" Even the responsible-looking family with kids will say things like, "Oh, it's not even windy, I'm sure it'll be fine, I can't be bothered to properly douse it". Homeless people tend to be more aware, on average, of how precarious their ability to live in the woods is, while the rest can simply go home - the woods are their playground.

As with most things the situation is complex. Decriminalizing homelessness instead of moving people along until they live in the woods, adding basic trash pickup and sanitation when possible, and educating EVERYBODY on what fire can do if you don't douse it to the point where you can touch the ashes, would definitely be a start. But then how would we blame people for their own misfortune?
posted by Feyala at 1:40 PM on August 23, 2016 [12 favorites]



I have no answers, just a belief that this will get a lot worse before it gets better, and not just in Colorado.

I've spent my career writing software that automated repetitive tasks, and I truly feel that our society is on the cusp of an era where technology as a whole will do the same thing to vast swathes of jobs and industries.

Where will these people go, and what will do they do? What should they do? Should we provide UBI so that a growing underclass in our society can remain permanently unemployed? From my own stint of unemployment, my own personal experience was that it was depressing and I felt perpetually worthless. As a society, is that how we'd like people to live?

How do you structure a safety net wide enough to support the people who need it while avoiding creating a giant disincentive for those who don't?
posted by blicero at 2:22 PM on August 23, 2016 [7 favorites]


Here's an article from the International Business Times about marijuana and homelessness in the Denver area: Marijuana Legalization In Colorado.

Interestingly, they point out:

While overall U.S. homelessness decreased between 2013 and 2014 as the country moved out of the recession, Colorado was one of 17 states that saw homeless numbers increase during that time

As for actual numbers, here is what people managing homeless shelters have to say:

Managers of many Colorado shelters say they’ve collected enough anecdotal evidence to estimate the number of marijuana migrants they’re seeing in their programs. At Denver’s St. Francis Center day shelter, executive director Tom Luehrs said a survey conducted by a grad student last year found that between 17 and 20 percent of the 350 or so new people the center was seeing each month said they’d come to the area in part because of medical marijuana. If anything, said Luehrs and his colleagues, that figure is low. At the nearby Salvation Army Crossroads Shelter, an informal survey of 500 newcomers in the summer of 2014 determined that nearly 30 percent were there because of cannabis.

I don't think it's crazy to say that the homeless problem in Colorado is getting worse in part because so many people are coming to the state because of pot. Everyone I know in Colorado has noticed the change in the last couple of years and commented on it, and it's not like my friends and family are freaked out by pot, by hippies, or by paying taxes to support the homeless and indigent.
posted by colfax at 9:57 AM on August 24, 2016 [5 favorites]


don't think it's crazy to say that the homeless problem in Colorado is getting worse in part because so many people are coming to the state because of pot

No, it's not. I do think it is important to distinguish this group from the remainder of the homeless population and recognize that the represent a minority within the community. There is a long history of the entire homeless population suffering for the behavior of a few, and I have a feeling that the people who want the homeless out of the forests are not making allowances for the 70 percent that have nothing to do with pot tourism, but are instead there for the many reasons articulated by commenters in this thread.
posted by maxsparber at 10:04 AM on August 24, 2016 [2 favorites]


The San Miguel County Sheriff's office posted this short video of a transient camp outside of Telluride about a year ago. I am sympathetic to homeless people's struggles, but a camp like that is a fire hazard and a bear hazard and a health hazard, because there's human excrement lying around that will get washed downhill. I understand that homelessness is a complicated problem to solve, but I can also understand why people are getting upset.
posted by colfax at 10:27 AM on August 24, 2016 [1 favorite]


> Everyone I know in Colorado has noticed the change in the last couple of years and commented on it

I live in Washington State, where we also have legal pot, and that never even crossed my mind. Either everyone you know in Colorado works with the homeless, or... or I don't know what... or life is varied.
posted by The corpse in the library at 1:17 PM on August 24, 2016


The San Miguel County Sheriff's office posted this short video of a transient camp outside of Telluride about a year ago.

I was going to post that for what it was worth, that looked less like a "transient camp" than a hoard to me, and I was going to say that I was willing to bet that the the hoarder(s) in question might have been transient and/or homeless but probably had local roots.

And then I did some googling: Benjamin Yoho, 41 of Telluride and Ouray, was convicted after a one-day bench trial before U.S. Magistrate David West in Durango on charges of massive littering in an area north of Telluride.

I'm not sure how much of a difference it makes that this was a local mentally-ill (apparently homeless) man, as opposed to an out of state homeless person or group of persons, but I'm not sure that "transient camp" is an accurate description, or that this situation is really indicative of the overall problems that increased homeless use of national parks is causing.
posted by sparklemotion at 1:40 PM on August 24, 2016 [3 favorites]


That's a good point. Thanks for looking into it further.

But yikes: they had to remove 8,500 pounds of trash from the forest because of that guy!
posted by colfax at 12:26 AM on August 25, 2016


It's been my experience (knowing my in-laws, watching Hoarders to help figure out what the hell is up with my in-laws, reading actual books about hoarding so I can figure out what the hell is up with my in-laws) that hoards will expand to fill all available space.

If the available space is a national forest, well...

Anyways -- I get why you posted it here, but I really wish the sherriff involved hadn't made it public at all. Recording evidence for a trial is great, but that video is just straight up shaming someone for the effects of his mental illness. It's definitely titillating to watch, but at least Hoarders shows you the trainwreck-can't-look-away stuff within a frame of at least trying to help the people.
posted by sparklemotion at 1:12 PM on August 25, 2016


sparklemotion: "If there's a hot-state version of Minnesota's Cold Weather Rule, I'd be curious to hear about it."

State Disconnection Policies
posted by exogenous at 1:32 PM on August 25, 2016 [1 favorite]


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