Info Request: Homeless Folks Living on National Forests

I’m helping some students explore policy ideas for dealing with homeless folks on a neighboring National Forest. Last year, a recreation person from a district told me that he thought it was the #1 issue that the recreation program was dealing with.

If anyone knows about studies or experiments that Forests have done in response to this issue, please comment below. Thank you!

14 thoughts on “Info Request: Homeless Folks Living on National Forests”

    • Thanks, MD! I didn’t mean experiment except in the sense of “you try something and see what happens” in this example, did it work? Did people stop camping there? Did they move somewhere else? On the forest or somewhere else no one knows?

      Reply
  1. Tell them to check in with Sawtooth National Forest. They dealt with this issue a few years ago. They may have some suggestions.

    Reply
  2. Journal of Forestry has this article in the December issue;

    Homelessness and Nonrecreational Camping on National Forests and Grasslands in the United States: Law Enforcement Perspectives and Regional Trends
    Lee K. Cerveny and Joshua W.R. Baur
    Lee K. Cerveny (lcerveny@fs.fed.us), Research Social Scientist, US Forest Service Pacific Northwest Research Station, 400 North 34th Street Suite 201, Seattle, WA 98103. Joshua W.R. Baur (joshua.baur@sjsu.edu), Assistant Professor, San Jose State University, Department of Health Science and Recreation, One Washington Square, San Jose, CA 95192.
    Abstract
    National forest law enforcement officers regularly encounter “nonrecreational” campers whose tenure exceeds established stay limits (generally 2 weeks). Some long-term occupants are home- less and seek use of the forest as a temporary or long-term residence. Long-term nonrecreational campers present myriad concerns for forest officials, who seek to balance public access and re- source conservation. In addition to biophysical impacts because of waste, disposal of chemicals, soil compaction, and damage to vegetation, nonrecreational campers can alter the social envir- onment being shared with other forest visitors. For this exploratory study, US Forest Service law enforcement officers (n = 290) were surveyed to assess officer perceptions of the frequency of encounters, trends, and types of nonrecreational campers. We provide a descriptive summary of major findings and point out regional variations and trends. Officers perceive regional variations in the frequency of encounters with nonrecreational or homeless campers as well as types of campers encountered.

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  3. It happens here in Southern Oregon. Luckily the winters are harsh enough and with no support systems they move on.
    The “travelers” totally trashed the Umpqua hot springs a few years ago and the FS band all camping and filled in the camping spots with rocks. It was a heavy price to pay.

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  4. There was a problem on one ranger district that I worked on – the local homeless shelter/”mission” was taking donations of old camping trailers and then taking homeless people out on NFS lands with a trailer and leaving them there (without asking the FS first, of course). The trailers were too old to be placed in a mobile home park (and that would have cost $ too). The mission went out to visit the people and bring them food/supplies etc every so often. Needless to say, once the district figured out what was happening, they put an end to that.

    Reply
    • Thanks, Anonymous. Conceivably, a not-for-profit could get a permit to set up a spot were people could camp and conditions of the permit would include waste disposal, protecting water quality and all that. I think they tried something like this on the Umpqua a while back.
      One of the problems I see is that 1) if it’s close enough to town to walk, neighbors might not like it. 2). If it’s far enough away not to bother neighbors, it might be too far for the residents to be able to get into town for shopping, doctors, mail, etc.

      Reply
  5. There was an experiment in the Umpqua NF in Oregon. See below for details.
    LA TIMES
    “The Last Refuge : Housing: In desperation, some homeless families in Oregon are settling on national forest land. Now, a pilot project will officially give them shelter at camps in the woods.”

    March 12, 1992|
    STUART WASSERMAN and GARRY ABRAMS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

    UMPQUA NATIONAL FOREST, Ore. — When Randy and Lori Lycett hit hard times last year, they pulled up stakes and headed for the trees.
    Joining an estimated 25 to 30 other families in this part of Oregon who have become pioneers by necessity, the homeless Lycetts took refuge in a national forest campground, living with their two sons and three dogs in a homemade plastic tent supported by tree limbs.
    It is a remote existence. The closest town–Cottage Grove, where the Lycetts had lived–is 25 miles away. The nearest neighbors are several miles down the road at another campsite.
    But the isolation of the Lycetts will end soon. In May, the family will join five others in what is believed to be the first project to officially house homeless people on national forest land.

    The Lycetts and the other families will pitch their shelters in an abandoned rock quarry equipped with chemical toilets, fire circles and other improvements in a deal between the National Forest Service, the county government and a private charity in Cottage Grove.
    “We think this is a viable alternative for folks who have a rugged constitution and are self-sufficient–a place for them in the woods until they get their feet on the ground,” says Daniel Lindstrom, a former Lutheran minister and director of Community Sharing, the charity that will administer the pilot project.
    Although the program is intended primarily for local families, regional publicity already has attracted inquiries from a family in Portland and another in Idaho, Lindstrom says. “We’re hoping this does not become a Mecca,” he adds.
    Lindstrom says about half a dozen families have expressed an interest in the campsite, which will house from 30 to 60 individuals. Eligible families must meet income guidelines and agree to abide by camp rules regarding such matters as fire safety and trash disposal.
    Lindstrom expects families to stay at the camp a minimum of one month. Ideally, no family would stay more than two or three months before returning to permanent housing. Families will be counseled regarding assistance programs that can help them make the leap out of homelessness, Lindstrom adds.
    Community Sharing’s decision to participate helped end debate over whether the county government should finance the project with $10,000 from a state grant for the homeless.
    At a recent public hearing, a few homeowners living near the forest boundary protested the experiment. Hardscrabble gold miners, themselves backwoods dwellers, also worried that the encampment would pollute forest streams, fouling the clean water crucial to their small operations, Lindstrom says.
    However, in a region where independent spirits are admired and economic calamity has rocketed the unemployment rate to 14%, the homeless of the forest have evoked widespread sympathy.
    “Just because they are homeless doesn’t make them criminals,” says Lindstrom, echoing prevailing public opinion. Furthermore, Lindstrom credits the Lycett family with a positive influence on public attitudes. The family is among the best organized and most outgoing of the forest homeless, he says. Other families and individuals often shun contacts with outsiders, sometimes retreating deep into the forest.
    Although most Oregon homeless gravitate to cities, Lindstrom says there are perhaps “hundreds and hundreds” of homeless people living in the state’s forests. An accurate count may be impossible. The forest “is the sort of place where folks go when they don’t want to be hassled by authorities,” Lindstrom explains.

    Usually, camping out for prolonged periods is illegal. Campgrounds typically limit stays to 14 days, and in winter many campgrounds are closed.
    The Lycetts, who have been at the campground about a year, have established a neatly maintained, semi-permanent settlement. Their sprawling tent–layers of weather-tight plastic–is equipped with a screen door, a kitchen table, shelving and mattresses. The shelves behind the table are filled with canned goods–donations from local residents.
    The tent’s two propane heaters spread a surprisingly cozy warmth through the 20-foot-by-10-foot living area. Within the last month, the family acquired another civilizing touch: a used generator to power a small television and that universal attachment, a Nintendo electronic game.
    Lori Lycett, a former waitress, spends much of the day teaching her two boys–Bronze, 11, and Jantzen, 8–using books supplied by the small East Dorena Lake School District, which reportedly has 19 homeless children attending classes.
    Lycett’s teaching includes a course of her own invention: “Practical Home Life Application,” which includes instruction about measurements through cooking and arithmetic through balancing a checkbook.
    But, she says, “it’s a little hard to balance a checkbook when you have nothing in it.”

    March 16, 1992

    Reply
  6. LA TIMES

    The Last Refuge : Housing: In desperation, some homeless families in Oregon are settling on national forest land. Now, a pilot project will officially give them shelter at camps in the woods.

    March 12, 1992|STUART WASSERMAN and GARRY ABRAMS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

    UMPQUA NATIONAL FOREST, Ore. — When Randy and Lori Lycett hit hard times last year, they pulled up stakes and headed for the trees.
    Joining an estimated 25 to 30 other families in this part of Oregon who have become pioneers by necessity, the homeless Lycetts took refuge in a national forest campground, living with their two sons and three dogs in a homemade plastic tent supported by tree limbs.
    It is a remote existence. The closest town–Cottage Grove, where the Lycetts had lived–is 25 miles away. The nearest neighbors are several miles down the road at another campsite.
    But the isolation of the Lycetts will end soon. In May, the family will join five others in what is believed to be the first project to officially house homeless people on national forest land.

    The Lycetts and the other families will pitch their shelters in an abandoned rock quarry equipped with chemical toilets, fire circles and other improvements in a deal between the National Forest Service, the county government and a private charity in Cottage Grove.
    “We think this is a viable alternative for folks who have a rugged constitution and are self-sufficient–a place for them in the woods until they get their feet on the ground,” says Daniel Lindstrom, a former Lutheran minister and director of Community Sharing, the charity that will administer the pilot project.
    Although the program is intended primarily for local families, regional publicity already has attracted inquiries from a family in Portland and another in Idaho, Lindstrom says. “We’re hoping this does not become a Mecca,” he adds.
    Lindstrom says about half a dozen families have expressed an interest in the campsite, which will house from 30 to 60 individuals. Eligible families must meet income guidelines and agree to abide by camp rules regarding such matters as fire safety and trash disposal.
    Lindstrom expects families to stay at the camp a minimum of one month. Ideally, no family would stay more than two or three months before returning to permanent housing. Families will be counseled regarding assistance programs that can help them make the leap out of homelessness, Lindstrom adds.
    Community Sharing’s decision to participate helped end debate over whether the county government should finance the project with $10,000 from a state grant for the homeless.
    At a recent public hearing, a few homeowners living near the forest boundary protested the experiment. Hardscrabble gold miners, themselves backwoods dwellers, also worried that the encampment would pollute forest streams, fouling the clean water crucial to their small operations, Lindstrom says.
    However, in a region where independent spirits are admired and economic calamity has rocketed the unemployment rate to 14%, the homeless of the forest have evoked widespread sympathy.
    “Just because they are homeless doesn’t make them criminals,” says Lindstrom, echoing prevailing public opinion. Furthermore, Lindstrom credits the Lycett family with a positive influence on public attitudes. The family is among the best organized and most outgoing of the forest homeless, he says. Other families and individuals often shun contacts with outsiders, sometimes retreating deep into the forest.
    Although most Oregon homeless gravitate to cities, Lindstrom says there are perhaps “hundreds and hundreds” of homeless people living in the state’s forests. An accurate count may be impossible. The forest “is the sort of place where folks go when they don’t want to be hassled by authorities,” Lindstrom explains.

    Usually, camping out for prolonged periods is illegal. Campgrounds typically limit stays to 14 days, and in winter many campgrounds are closed.
    The Lycetts, who have been at the campground about a year, have established a neatly maintained, semi-permanent settlement. Their sprawling tent–layers of weather-tight plastic–is equipped with a screen door, a kitchen table, shelving and mattresses. The shelves behind the table are filled with canned goods–donations from local residents.
    The tent’s two propane heaters spread a surprisingly cozy warmth through the 20-foot-by-10-foot living area. Within the last month, the family acquired another civilizing touch: a used generator to power a small television and that universal attachment, a Nintendo electronic game.
    Lori Lycett, a former waitress, spends much of the day teaching her two boys–Bronze, 11, and Jantzen, 8–using books supplied by the small East Dorena Lake School District, which reportedly has 19 homeless children attending classes.
    Lycett’s teaching includes a course of her own invention: “Practical Home Life Application,” which includes instruction about measurements through cooking and arithmetic through balancing a checkbook.
    But, she says, “it’s a little hard to balance a checkbook when you have nothing in it.”

    Reply
  7. Lee, thanks for contributing, and I really appreciate your work in this area.
    Do you know what ultimately happened in the Umpqua experiment?

    Reply

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