Homeless People Finding Refuge in the Wild

Concerns Arise as Homeless Campers Move to National Forests

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, they have become a retreat of last resort, reports The New York Times.

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. As officers deal with more emergency calls, drug overdoses, illegal fires, and trash piles deep in the woods, tensions are boiling in places that lie on the fringes of forests and loosely patrolled public lands.

Citing fire danger, some residents have asked the Forest Service to do what many cities have done in cracking down on homeless people: impose tighter rules on camping, or ban it in parts of the woods that have attracted the most people.

A 2015 survey of 290 law enforcement officers for the Forest Service found that officers in the Rocky Mountain West and Southwest encountered long-term campers most often. About half of the officers said the number of these long-term campers was on the rise, and only 2 percent said it had declined. The rest said the number had either largely held steady or fluctuated. But officials say public lands researchers are just beginning to study who lives there and why.

National parks place strict limits on camping, but in national forests and open spaces managed by the Bureau of Land Management, people can pitch tents just about anywhere camping is not prohibited. Many forests allow camping for only two weeks at a time. In 2015, the Forest Service handled 1,014 episodes related to violations of those rules.  



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