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Urban camping

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Urban camping

Postby balzaccom » Thu Mar 21, 2013 9:07 am

Some major construction projects in our area got us thinking about the homeless in our town. In a way, these folks are backpackers, too, albeit in an urban environment.

And so we started thinking about campsites: what are the criteria for a good urban campsite? And how would that be different from a good campsite in the wilderness?

The first difference would be shelter. Most of the homeless people in our area don’t have shelter—yeah, that’s why they call them homeless—so the first thing to look for is a roof over your head. That’s why highway underpasses and bridges seem to be so popular. Would that change if the homeless had effective tents? Interesting to consider.

And the next items on the agenda would be food and water. Backpackers usually carry their own food—but the urban homeless are going to be foraging. That means an ideal campsite will be not far from sources of food and water—whether those are official sources like food banks and the Salvation Army, or simply the back parking lot of the local grocery store.

If possible, you would also want access to a public restroom—although we don’t use those in the wilderness, and plenty of homeless people follow that same example in the urban environment.

And finally, you would think that all people still want a bit of privacy—so that would be another consideration for the urban backpacker/homeless person.

Do social services networks use this kind of matrix to work with the homeless?

Are there elements of backpacking equipment or technique that could improve the situation?
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Re: Urban camping

Postby BrianF » Thu Mar 21, 2013 9:54 am

Well, from my experiences hitchhiking around the west in the 60's and early 70's and needing to sometimes "camp" in urban areas, the main criteria was not so much "privacy" as seclusion from police eyes. In most cases that precludes putting up tents. For myself, I was using my backpacking gear but only put up the tent when I could be in an official campground or someone's back yard (back in the day fellow hippies often offered their yards, couches, beds, showers etc). Under overpasses was reserved only for rain because it wasn't hidden enough, screening bushes along the freeway were popular as was any forested area or under creek bridges, parks occasionally.
The homeless in my area are not subjected to extremes in weather but could certainly benefit from good gear. RVs are popular among the homeless and are parked all over the streets
The direction you are moving in is what matters, not the place you happen to be -Colin Fletcher
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Re: Urban camping

Postby balzaccom » Thu Mar 21, 2013 11:00 am

Good point, Brian. Privacy means different things in different scenarios!
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Re: Urban camping

Postby Jimr » Fri Mar 22, 2013 9:09 am

The homeless in our area find seclusion for the same reason; police avoidance, probably seclusion while they sleep as well. I work next to a set of railroad tracks in an industrial area. I can easily, right now, take a small walk along the tracks and find bivy spots among the trees and bushes. I know who he is as I've seen him many times. He keeps to himself, often sitting reading some scrap newspaper or something while sitting at a lunch bench at one of the neighboring businesses. His favorite activity is to collect rubbish of similar nature and stack it into what I can only describe as hobo art. He never panhandles and is always kept to the extent that you wouldn't know he was living on the railroad tracks by looking at him. Maybe he draws social security, who knows.

Near my home, there is a homeless woman who use business trash enclosures to set-up her bivy. She sleeps behind them and you would never know anybody was there unless you're like me and often stroll parking lots in the spring and early summer looking for black bird and seagull feathers during molting season. She is a regular panhandler and works the corner mini-malls thoroughly. She has the obvious look of homeless, unlike the above gentleman.

I think the ability to hide from the public view is the only real criteria for the typical urban camper. A hose bib is never far away, so I can't see water being a concern. I guess a reasonably close proximity to convenience type stores (mini-malls) would be a consideration for those who panhandle for their food, cigarettes, liquor, etc.

Perhaps the criteria differ if one is just passing through.
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Re: Urban camping

Postby sparky » Fri Mar 22, 2013 12:31 pm

LA is a different story, nobody seems to worry about being concealed. The homeless, like all people, are all different, but many dont bother hiding. I was working in China Town and there was a guy who lived on the sidewalk right outside the jobsite. We would show up at 5:30AM, and that was his wake up time. He has a box spring and mattress and had pristine white blankets. He had five or six shopping carts, all were covered with more pristine white blankets. He would get up, move his bed across the street and lean it on the wall of this other building. He had a broom and would keep the corner clean. I just thought it was wild to have a bed set up with such clean bedding on the sidewalk. He had his act together.

I have always lived in lower class areas, so I am used to seeing and talking to homeless people. The vast majority are mentally ill, or addicted to drugs/alcohol. A small minority are just down and out, or do it by choice. I have seen a couple with two kids shooting up, people defecating, people smoking crack, prostitution, fighting in the streets, having sex in the bushes, you name it. Living on the streets is a wild lifestyle where pretty much anything goes.

I think there is a very small minority that are what we call "urban outdoors men". The vast majority though wouldn't really benifit in the long run by supplying gear. It would either be stolen, lost, or traded for drugs. I think more homeless shelters/soup kitchens with better security is the way to go.
There is a million ways to be human, all are worthwhile.

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