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Encountering ‘homeless’ folks while camping


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My wife & I were fulltimers for a while pre-pandemic. We went off the road for a while and are now yearning to get out there again. But I’m wondering: How common is it to encounter travelers who are obviously on the road out of desperation—in campgrounds or boondocking because that’s all they can afford to do?

I realize this can be subjective, but not always. I have compassion for the homeless and understand that many of us living this lifestyle may be only one disaster away from that plight. I just want to know what we might be likely to encounter while searching for a campsite or boondocking spot, especially on public land. 
 

Thank you. 

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If someone is living in an RV they aren't homeless then are they? I'm sure others will have their opinion or info but we haven't encountered homeless anywhere in our travels in the places we camp. Have we seen homeless along the way in our travels? You bet. Out experience is that the homeless are mostly found in urban areas as that's where the services such as "soup" kitchens, shelters against the elements, etc. are found. 

Edited by Chalkie
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All full timers are homeless. We all come from a variety of lifestyles. Those who live in vans or cars are no different. We all have the same basic needs. The community of van dwellers is growing rapidly--increased by the number of people who are downsizing from larger rigs. Being friendly to all is a good thing.

If you want to learn more about those pushed into this lifestyle, I recommending reading the blog entries at https://cheaprvliving.com. Lots of good people out there.

Linda Sand

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We stayed at Tumalo State park in Oregon in June of 2021 for just one night. I needed to get fuel for the truck and didn't want to haul the trailer with me when I did. I set the GPS to the appropriate fueling station and it took me on a round about route that included what appeared to be a back street that was lined with motor homes and trailers that had been there for quite a while. Most of them in disrepair, with garbage, and other collections scattered around. It was obvious that there some occupants that thought the street was where everything from the RV should drain.  Several had screens knocked out where I presume the kitchen sink was, based on the stains in the road from some sort of discharge. THere were more than 30 RV's of different types on this back road, which about 2 streets off the main highway.

Were they homeless? probably not, but definetly folks that were down on their luck and were making it by, with what they could get.

Tumalo park is about 5 miles north of Bend, Oregon,  near a very small town. 

I also passed by several campgrounds on our way to Key West from SW Idaho, that were combination permanent resident and overnight guest places. Some of those campgrounds looked like an area where old RV's go to die or rust in peace. Didn't stay in any of them and I don't think many of them show up on Campendium or RV Life apps.

 

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I don't believe I've ever heard of this concern come up.  Just get out there and enjoy yourselves and quit worrying about a non-existent issue.  

You stated you were full-timers previously.  Did you have the same concerns then?

 

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Never seen them, with maybe an exception of an encounter with the 'rainbow people' if they still exist. And that was years ago. And we camp 250+ days a year.

But I'll give my standard advice for avoiding crime, aka homeless critters. Do not camp near any large city. Do that you you'll never see them. Stay at least 30 or 40 miles away when possible. They will not travel that far from their city haunts and feeding areas.

Edited by agesilaus
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2 hours ago, 2gypsies said:

quit worrying about a non-existent issue.  

While I agree that it's not worth worrying about it, saying it's non-existent makes it hard to expalain the 30+ Rv's I encountered on a small town back street.  ALL of them looked like they were occupied.

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28 minutes ago, franco-bolli said:

While I agree that it's not worth worrying about it, saying it's non-existent makes it hard to expalain the 30+ Rv's I encountered on a small town back street.  ALL of them looked like they were occupied.

But were you looking to camp there?   Yes, there certainly are areas where the those down on their luck will stay and they are most often near a city - large and small; not in a campground or in the far boonies of public lands.  They'd have to pay for a spot in a campground and in the boonies they'd have to use fuel to get supplies, gas, water.

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A couple of years ago we were hosts at a State park that had a homeless problem. The rule is no more than 14 nights in any 30-day period, so they would move around between the three parks in the general area. One lady didn't own anything capable of towing her trailer, so she had to find someone to move it for her. The park superintendent knew her well, and knew that, practically, there was nothing he could do about her "extending" her stay until her two showed up. Yes, he could have had the trailer impounded, but then he would have been the one waiting on the tow truck, so he would have to put up with her.

Another person was in a tent. He set up the tent after hours, and managed to never be around when anyone was there to collect. Eventually a Ranger was called in, and the tent was taken to a locked storage area. The man then had to come to the fee booth to ask about his belongings. We called the Ranger, who came right over. The man had to pay for his site before the Ranger would take him to his stuff.
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We traveled a lot in summer of 2021 and just returned from a fairly long trip and our experience was the same as Chalkie expressed. We have this year been in the D/FW area, New Orleans, Memphis, Nashville, Little Rock, and several cities in between and we saw homeless in pretty much the same areas that they occupied in 2019 and before. There have been some reports of an increase in homelessness and I don't doubt that but have seen no evidence of it in the places that we have been. Since we do not frequent slum or low income areas or industrial areas when we travel in an RV we would be unlikely to have encountered them. I have been in several COE parks in the D/FW area and saw no evidence of anyone homeless there, unless an occasional ratty looking RV or home-built is an indication of such. And frankly, if the ratty looking RV happens to be a homeless person out enjoying nature, more power to them! I have always found the majority of RV folks to be good people and have seen nothing to change my opinion. 

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The RV society is no different to all segments of society. There's a mix of all sorts of folks. Pre judging is a dangerous game. Being alert isn't.

I've met some real PITA in the high end resorts.  And in the worst campgrounds. But Ive met way more nice people than bad people.

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7 hours ago, bruce t said:

The RV society is no different to all segments of society. There's a mix of all sorts of folks. Pre judging is a dangerous game. Being alert isn't.

I've met some real PITA in the high end resorts.  And in the worst campgrounds. But Ive met way more nice people than bad people.

Agreed . ;)

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But aren't those who are "camping" in areas not designated as camping spots and are dumping their waste in non approved dump stations causing a problem for those of us who follow the rules? That in my opinion is the problem.

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With the worsening economy, more people will be strapped for money, and I fear we will see more homeless folks.  Most of these folks are decent people and just down on their luck.  But as in all sections of society, there are the bad elements that will prey on others.  We try to be tolerant of everyone, but I cannot be giving out money and lunches to every unfortunate person we encounter.

Like others, we have met some of the nicest people in older, not so shiny RVs and we have met some real a$$e$ in really fancy motorhomes.  Be kind to others that need some help, even some empathy is appreciated by many.

Ken 

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2 hours ago, TXiceman said:

Most of these folks are decent people and just down on their luck.  But as in all sections of society, there are the bad elements that will prey on others.  We try to be tolerant of everyone, but I cannot be giving out money and lunches to every unfortunate person we encounter.

Like others, we have met some of the nicest people in older, not so shiny RVs and we have met some real a$$e$ in really fancy motorhomes.  Be kind to others that need some help, even some empathy is appreciated by many.

Ken 

Ditto.

Rather than give things to resale shops, I have offered items to people of need. Before Covid we were parked in a RV park for a week or so and observed a fellow cleaning Class from the top down to the ground. I gave him some of my clothes I had out grown (at the waist).. He accepted with gratitude  and he was cleaned up the next day wearing clean clothes. I remember his smile.

Clay

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Clay, last year a older lady (younger than me) was moved into an older travel trailer on the row behind us.  She had recently lost her husband and was really having a hard time financially.  She had some plants that my wife would talk to her about, and she always came over to pet our dog.  She was lonesome and hardly anyone spoke to her.  She dressed in old worn clothes and was always pleasant.

Not long before we left, my wife was going through things to take up to the assistance ministries store and remembered how the woman dressed.  When she had the clothes gathered, she took them over to her and she gladly accepted them.  Next day she was dressed better.  I had helped her repair a couple of minor things on the trailer.

We left a week later, but she brought over a nice birthday card for our dog with a really sweet note about how she really appreciated all the kindness we had shown her.  Make you feel kind of good.

Ken

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TXiceman:  Very nice story.  I don't know why people are afraid of the homeless.  Even outside the homeless world there are plenty of people in 'normal' living that I would be afraid of... in all walks of living and with all financial means.

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On 6/30/2022 at 9:00 AM, Chalkie said:

If someone is living in an RV they aren't homeless then are they? I'm sure others will have their opinion or info but we haven't encountered homeless anywhere in our travels in the places we camp. Have we seen homeless along the way in our travels? You bet. Out experience is that the homeless are mostly found in urban areas as that's where the services such as "soup" kitchens, shelters against the elements, etc. are found. 

I am surprised at the increase in homeless in the area that I frequent.  Those area's pretty much off-the-grid.   

That said.  There are two types of homeless folks.  Those down on their luck and those mentally ill.

The mentally ill folks are really the problem as many of them have a tendency to violence.  That is a difficult situation to deal with. 

I had one person confront me about my generator running for one minute to microwave my breakfast, it was running at 8:00 in the morning!!  I told him him the rules, and since I personally knew the state employee managing the area, he was welcome to drive the mile or two to the house and get a clarification on the rules.

Next year, same area, different person.  "I drove seven hours from Seattle and I don't like off-leash dogs".  Fine, except off-leash dogs are LEGAL in this area.  Was the dog bothering you??  No, but he was off-leash.

People down on their luck are usually pretty nice and there but for the grace of God, we could be in the same shoes.  I packed a steak dinner, complete with potatoes, salad and a good bottle of wine and gave to a camper, with the excuse I needed to get rid of the food before I got home.

I don't mind helping the homeless campers.

Funny story, dealing with the mentally ill campers.  We were bird hunting in a remote area.  When we heard from a campsite about 50 yards away cries for help from a woman that her partner was attacking here.  There were two of us that had both worked for the Forest Service, and a tech guy.  The tech guy said we should intervene.

We both said, it doesn't sound that serious.  And then things got quiet.

About a half hour later, it was the GUY screaming that he was being attacked by her and she was sitting on him.  We still did nothing.

An hour later they packed up and left.

The down on their luck homeless deserve our support and help.  The mentally ill, are more difficult to deal with and really should be confronted only by trained individuals.

More of both on our public lands.  I think many people have found out that boondocking is free.

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If anyone has some time on their hands try Googling 'van life YouTube'. There's a whole world of folks out there living in small vans. Dry camping in all sorts of locations. I've watch dozens of them in envy. Some are down on their luck. But most are living the lifestyle by choice for many many reasons.

Here's a 'girl' that is a pro photographer. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q_p31M_EXLM  These guys are way ahead with their self sufficiency in many respects. Something that will filter through to larger RVs.

I think we all need to be very careful about how we judge others.

 

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Bruce I can't speak to today or boondocking as we saw lots of those described by several here already back when we were full time 1997-2003. I would imagine more now.

We saw a lot of back rows in RV parks in Arlington Texas and especially in California. The ones in Arlington were neat as a pin we met but several were pretty run down and trash around them. Worse condition in the ones in California we looked at but turned down around Gilroy California. We stayed at one of the nicest parks in Morgan Hill CA for several months doing a DotCom startup in 2000. It had a bunch of Back Row RVrs and the few we met were very nice, but some of the rigs were really in terrible shape. By back row RVrs I mean what has been mentioned here a few times where they have trailers but no tow vehicle and they had to move them around every few weeks month to comply with whatever law that was. Their rigs would be unlivable for us with broken windows and no systems working except maybe the stove? One I helped I went into was a real mess. I know folks with an RV are not homeless, but I think Bruce was asking about back row RVrs as I call them. I have not met any dangerous ones and most were quite likeable but down on their luck.

One Lady AF retiree with obvious mental illness was living in a tent on Travis AFB CA in 2000 in the FamCamp there. I guess if you have a tent you are not homeless either. Mary was sweet and harmless but very paranoid. I helped her with her laptop.

I would be more worried about all our mass shootings here. I haven't seen too many mass shootings in the boonies or RV parks likely due to access controls. You should be fine.

 

Edited by RV_
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10 hours ago, folivier said:

But aren't those who are "camping" in areas not designated as camping spots and are dumping their waste in non approved dump stations causing a problem for those of us who follow the rules? That in my opinion is the problem.

Stay away from those "back road", mean streets.  If you can't figure out if you're in the wrong place - look around........and move on!

BTW - Check out Venice, CA - and Los Angeles close to the coast.  Lots and LOTS of the "problems" discussed here (trashed-out RVs that may never move!).  They do have legal "advocates" that "work the system".

Bottom line - the streets are NOT campgrounds no matter how many RVs are there.  It's not "homeless" who are simply.... down on their luck!!

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19 minutes ago, Pappy Yokum said:

  It's not "homeless" who are simply.... down on their luck!!

Well put. I'd like to see a revival of the old fashioned boarding houses with meals and rules. I know, with the violence today it would not work. There was one in Shreveport way back in the day called Mrs. Miller's boarding house in the early 70s when I was assigned there and it was on 70th street near the train tracks that ran through Cedar Grove. Their Sunday dinner included their boarders but it was such a feast of fried chicken, thick bone-in ham steaks, vegetables seasoned perfectly with fatback floating in them, mashed potatoes big cat's head biscuits so light they almost floated off the plate with pitchers of Ice Cold milk, Iced tea, served on white linen and linen napkins. This was 1971, and around that table would be the mayor, a police chief, sheriff, some folks like me that knew about it, and the poor boarders. Today with our knowledge of healthy eating the ingredients would change, but once a week would not kill me. No one had vocal issues nor would dare be rude to another. Being banned by Mrs. Miller was enough to keep all in line. It was secular, and one of those memories that stays.

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Back in the 1990's we went out to camp at 'The Slab'. Boy was that an eye opener. Now there may have been some nice folks there but they sure didn't present that way.

It's not just RVs. Drive through most towns and cites and there are places you just keep driving. It's how society is. Always has been and always will be. We once camped in a state park and they put us beside the oldest, cheapest looking small 5th wheeler one could imagine. Turned out to be one of the nicest elderly couple god could put on earth. (As a side note she wanted to go fulltime. He didn't. So he bough a 'cheap' RV thinking it would put his wife off. It didn't. But it did give him plenty of things to do fixing things up).

RV I started my working life living in a boarding house. What a mix of characters. Accountants, school teachers, drunks and everything in between. But that boarding house taught me tolerance. The drunks were nice guys. When sober and drunk. Some of the teachers and accountants weren't so nice. The land lady bought out the fire hose on occasion and quickly sorted out any disputes!! Breakfast and evening meal was provided. Everyone had to be at the dining table on time to get their meal. Everyone was made to thank the lord for the food before anyone picked up a knife or fork. Mrs Jones anyways had her thumb in the bowl of soup! And was capable of clipping the cheeky ones behind the ear. I could write a book on my year or three in that boarding house. But we survived. I agree. Bring back the boarding house. Boarding houses are one of life's best teachers.

 

 

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5 hours ago, 2gypsies said:

TXiceman:  Very nice story.  I don't know why people are afraid of the homeless.  Even outside the homeless world there are plenty of people in 'normal' living that I would be afraid of... in all walks of living and with all financial means.

OK I've seen studies that say something like 70% of these people are mentally ill. Why are they on the street, untreated, and many living the life of petty crime?

This all goes back to the late 1970's and 1980's. You may recall that documentary showing folks being abused in some northern state's mental decrepit hospital, and then there was One flew over the Cuckoos Nest(1975). The result of all this was a frenzy to close State Mental Hospitals and 'free' the patients.

Now I lived in a small town in the south, one of the primary employers was one of the three State Hospitals. I worked in the acute wards before going back to school. And actually was in charge of a ward on the swing shift. These were new buildings and the patients were intensely treated with several staff psychiatrists.

Now you need to understand certain things about severe mental illness:

1) It is a learned process, the longer someone goes untreated the more committed they are to the experience of being mentally ill. They learn to like it , more or less. At least that was the theory of what was happening to them and so far as I know it still is.

2) So the only hope of returning these folks to productive and semi normal lives is to break the process in it's early stages. Before they become set into the dysfunctional mode of being schizophrenic. 

3) So newly ill patients went to the acute wards and we worked to stabilize them with treatment and medications.

4) However many of these folks detest the meds, some of which had bad side effects, back then. And if left on their own will not take their meds. Thus lapsing into chronic and incurable mental illness.

5) So what of the chronic patients, most older and in poor health. They were warehoused. Given meds, supervision, bed and board and provided with lots of recreational opportunities, craft classes, swimming, work on site if they wanted to do so, field trips and shopping trips, medical care. There was a fully staffed and newish hospital on site.

6) Maybe not something most folks would want but it was humane and protective of people unable to care for themselves.

Then came Nurse Rachet and liberal law firms fired up their litigation machine and attacked these hospitals. The states were running these facilities at great expense. Oddly all of the documentaries seemed to fine major fault with northeastern and west coast institutions.

They finally got laws passed, the patients in theory went to community treatment programs which were and are a total failure. The patients actually ended up sleeping under overpasses, med and treatment free. These graduation to their current status of 'street people'. The states were free to spend all that money elsewhere where they thought they could more effectively buy votes.

And that is the source of the current problem.

Can you honestly say that these folks are better off drinking rotgut, taking drugs, not eating, diseased, subject to criminals and living on the street than they were when their predecessors were 'warehoused'??

 

 

Edited by agesilaus
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Bottom line - the streets are NOT campgrounds no matter how many RVs are there.  It's not "homeless" who are simply.... down on their luck!

and some choose to live this way and that’s their thing but pick up your trash. You do not need a service to do it for you. 

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