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US: Increasing number of nomadic seniors living on public lands

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  • US: Increasing number of nomadic seniors living on public lands
    Lee K Cerveny, Joshua W R Baur, Homelessness and Nonrecreational Camping on National Forests and Grasslands in the United States: Law Enforcement Perspectives and Regional Trends, Journal of Forestry, Volume 118, Issue 2, March 2020, Pages 139–153,

    National forest law enforcement officers regularly encounter “nonrecreational” campers whose tenure exceeds established stay limits (generally 2 weeks). Some long-term occupants are homeless 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 resource conservation. In addition to biophysical impacts because of waste, disposal of chemicals, soil compaction, and damage to vegetation, nonrecreational campers can alter the social environment 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.

    Single elderly or aging adults may be at greater risk for becoming homeless because of greater need for health care, rising health care and home care costs, or lower incomes. Seniors are an increasing proportion of homeless or home-instable individuals in the US (Culhane et al. 2013, US HUD 2018a). Recent accounts have documented low-income adults, including seniors living in RVs for long stretches—moving from place to place and forming informal nomadic communities (Hartwigsen and Null 1991, Counts and Counts 2001). Terms used to describe this practice include boon-docking, van-dwelling, and freedom camping (Counts and Counts 2001, Harris 2016). Veterans constitute another group whose numbers among the homeless appear to be growing as well (Fargo et al. 2012). Many veterans face post-traumatic stress, other disabilities, or substance abuse difficulties, which preclude them from full-time employment or stable housing (Metraux et al. 2013). Although we often envision “homeless” individuals as a monolithic group, this community is quite diverse (National Alliance to End Homelessness 2019).

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