Mar 21, 2013 at 9:13 am #1300727
@balzaccomLocale: Wine Country
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?Mar 21, 2013 at 9:29 am #1968172
@retiredjerryLocale: Oregon and Washington
I have also thought of the similarity between backpackers and homeless people.
Homeless people go along Interstate 5, hikers go along the PCT.
If it's raining a lot and I can find shelter under some structure, it's much better than a tent, no matter how good the tent.
If you're sleeping under a bridge, there's no privacy – people can see you as they drive by, and it's noisy – but the noise is sort of similar to the ocean or a stream.Mar 21, 2013 at 9:35 am #1968177
@stingray4540Locale: South Bay
Backpacking: Self financed or living off the land.
Homeless: Lazy(or addicted) people living off of society and others hard work.
Most homeless are homeless because they choose to be, or are mentally incapable of being anything but. It's generally easier to make money begging than to get a real job. People give them food, or they buy food with the money they are given, if they don't blow it all on drugs or alcohol. I can't stand it when perfectly capable teenagers ask me for my hard earned money. Or homeless people with dogs. If you can't afford to take care of yourself, then why are you taking care of another being?
They have many resources available to them, even education, but they choose to be where they are. Heck, even a job at McD's should be enough for you to rent a room somewhere.
Personally, I wouldn't mind being "homeless", but I would be living in the mountains, not being a burden on society in the city.
Of course there are the occasional mentally handicap that have no family to help them, but I rarely come across these.
Or the "choose to be homeless" but at least do something for my money, like make palm leaf roses, or entertain me on the street, etc. I have no problem paying double what something is worth to help someone help themselves.Mar 21, 2013 at 9:53 am #1968187
@retiredjerryLocale: Oregon and Washington
Ahhh – we're getting into chaff : )
I think most homeless people are "mentally handicapped" not lazy. Why would anyone live under a bridge with traffic whizzing a few feet away from you?
Even addicted people are "mentally handicapped". Once you go down that path, it's difficult to figure out how to get back.
Not that the solution is to given them stuff. It's very difficult to find solutions. Providing subsidized education through college or trade school is a good first step.Mar 21, 2013 at 10:00 am #1968194
>"It's generally easier to make money begging than to get a real job. "
Man, Nick, you're really on a tear today.
Here I sit in a heated office, on an ergometric chair, skimming work plans, estimating costs, and strategizing with other smart coworkers how to solve interesting technical problems. I enjoy it. Take-home is only $60/hour (for time not spent on BPL) because I don't want the hassles of running my own business.
Articles I've read by reporters who posed as homeless to do research managed $20-$80/ 10- to 12-hour days out in the elements. And those were mentally healthy, recently bathed, professionals who had the people and presentation skills to get hired, so I suspect their proceeds may have been above average. Doing that, day in and day out, in all kinds of weather, I would't enjoy.
It is easy and perhaps understandable to mistake the visibly homeless (the panhandlers, the mentally ill) for all homeless. Working in a rural school district and on the board of a women's shelter, I'm aware of vastly more people living invisibly in their cars, remote campsites, in church basements, shelters, or couch-surfing than visibly living on the street.
You don't like them to solicit you. They don't like you scowling at them. In a Western-European democracy, there's a lot less of either going on. But, as a wage earner, you'd have to tolerate those 35-hour work weeks and 8 weeks of paid vacation each year.Mar 21, 2013 at 10:03 am #1968195
"you would think that all people still want a bit of privacy"
From what I've sort of figured out, is that they might want privacy, but for safety reasons a lot of homeless tend to pick locations not too isolated. Since they are ignored in our society and have to keep all their valuables with them, this makes them a target for theft and abuse. Or even worse, just having some drunk teenagers stumble upon them while sleeping in a remote area, where help passing by is very unlikely.
"Are there elements of backpacking equipment or technique that could improve the situation?"
I contemplate what kind of gear I'd want if I was homeless, or what kind of gear to give them, but I think talking to them about it would yield much better results than me guessing and stuffing something into their hands. First thought would be some kind of durable tarp they could make a shelter out of, or even roll up in as a kind waterproof burrito. However, there might be some really good reasons why that would offer them little help, or it is already something they can get easily in ways I wouldn't of thought of.Mar 21, 2013 at 10:11 am #1968200
Back to the OP's thoughts:
I notice our Alaskan homeless are more competent than the ones I saw while in school in Berkeley. Of course, they have to be or they'd be dead. Which happens a few times a year to a drunk who falls asleep in a snow bank on 4th Avenue in Anchorage.
I learned how to dig razor clams from a local homeless guy, "Hippy Mark". And how to clean them. I've been to Christmas dinner parties with him. And the physicians, dog mushers, accountants, and commercial fisherman. Heck, they even let me, an engineer, attend.
Living in a tent, under a tarp or in an old cabin is a lot like backpacking. Without our weight limits, though, the adept homeless have some advantages – fishing pole (or 5-foot-diameter net for state residents), clam shovel, containers for picking berries, etc. And urban settings offer dumpster diving, snagging un-finished Happy Meals from the trash, and all manner of cast-off consumer goods.
Okay, I live in a resource-rich area and a couple of 10-pound sockeye salmon in an afternoon is better pickings than squirrels and pigeons from the park (saw that done in Boston). But you need some serious kit on a -25F night.Mar 21, 2013 at 10:21 am #1968206
@germantouristLocale: in my tent
Check out Richard Robert's blog on this topic. He has recently been posting here on BPL about his interesting lifestyle: He does not have a home any more but free camps in the city of London while pursuing his job as a piano tuner.Mar 21, 2013 at 10:22 am #1968207
@hknewmanLocale: Western US
The difference is traditional backpackers and travelers usually save for their "expeditions", while the true homeless are out there by lack of choice, mostly addictions, other mental illness, or even just down on their luck with no/expired savings.
Similarities are everyone needs shelter being thin-skinned primates from the tropics, plus food and water (calories not really being a problem in the developed world). Maybe the first thing is to use social workers to sort the addicts, the unemployable ex-cons, etc.. vs just unlucky, then see what existing homeless shelters are offering (most kick them out during the day iirc)? There are programs but one is expected to make progress in accordance with the agency wishes.
Semi-related, sometimes those down on their luck are glued to a geography or maybe just a mental reference (with this degree, the "successful" graduate is expected to go from a to b to c..). I was just reading Outside magazine (online) about a pasta chef with bachelor's and Master's degrees in engineering from a major Georgia (US) university. It's good to use a major/minor but there's other ways to make money, especially if one has a passion for something (which looking at it from an employer standpoint…).Mar 21, 2013 at 10:39 am #1968215
@stephen-mLocale: Way up North
I read somewhere that the majority of Us families are only 3 months from being homeless if they loose all sources of income.Mar 21, 2013 at 12:33 pm #1968247
@stingray4540Locale: South Bay
Yeah, you caught me. Been kind of in a trolling mood today, but now that it's getting close to bed time, I'm losing interest in antagonizing everyone…
I could start a 40 page chaff thread just debating my views on life, the right to life, survival of the fittest, indentured servitude, etc.
I will however comment on the articles you mention. There is truth to the lyrics, "no one likes a beggar slightly overdressed." IMO I think they probably did worse than the typical panhandler. 1) they don't have the experience to know where the best places/times are to beg. 2) begging is about eliciting pity, not being able to articulate a good power point presentation. 3) People are less likely to give money to someone who doesn't look like they need it (i.e. clean, decent clothes, etc.)
Then of course you have to remember, they don't have the expenses we do. $80 a day to hang out, no mortgage, no PG&E bill, phone bill, etc. That's a lot of money if you don't have those expenses. Heck even at $50 a day, not including weekends, I could probably afford to rent a room in the expensive SF bay area.
Feel free to PM me your email address if you want me to comment on the rest. Then we can talk back and forth about how the world is, how it aught to be, and how it aught not to be, ad infinitum.Mar 21, 2013 at 12:59 pm #1968255
When I finished the PCT I hitched back to Seattle and had two days hanging out at a hostel in town. It really hit me as I was walking around with my little backpack how similar I was to many of the perceived homeless on the street, they just chose a different environment. Is a long distance hike really so different than living on the streets? Yes, my cuben fiber tarp cost more than the average homeless total gear but does it really matter how much it cost? I was walking from border to border. Many that I talked to migrated from city to city based on season, boredom etc. I slept in a sleeping bag under the stars, they sleep in a sleeping bag under an awning. I eat as much bummed(yogi) food as possible, they eat as much bummed food as possible. I was on the trail by choice, many of the homeless are living that way by choice.
The interesting thing was how I was perceived by "civilians". On the trail many people would recognize me as a thru hiker and want to talk. In the city, people avoided eye contact, I became invisible.
There are a couple of differences. One is the total gear. A hiker needs portable shelter whereas the homeless would want low overhead. Shelter such as bridge keep the material overhead low and visibility to a minimum. Hikers generally are heading somewhere whereas the homeless are living somewhere. This more fixed location reduces the need to carry food, it is readily available.
Bottom line there aren't as many differences as we would like to think. You can see it in people reaction to you when you hit an area unfamiliar with hikers such as Snoqualamie Pass in Wa. People treat you like you're homeless and I know many hikers have been offered money.Mar 21, 2013 at 1:17 pm #1968261
>Bottom line there aren't as many differences as we would like to think.
You outline some similarities between long distance hikers and the homeless, and many parallels can be drawn. But the one glaring difference between (most) thru-hikers and the homeless is the fact that once the hike is done, they have a home to go back to.
This singular difference, in my eyes, keeps them fundamentally different, no matter how many parallels there are.Mar 21, 2013 at 1:24 pm #1968265
"You outline some similarities between long distance hikers and the homeless, and many parallels can be drawn. But the one glaring difference between (most) thru-hikers and the homeless is the fact that once the hike is done, they have a home to go back to."
Actually I think you would be surprised how many thru hikers have neither a job or their own home to back to. I hiked with four different hikers for a week or more. none of them had jobs to back to and at least a couple were trying to figure where they would live. Also, the lifestyle is very addicting and leads to a number of folks working only enough to support their next hike. This wouldn't even be necessary if there were hordes of people to beg from on the trail in the same way the homeless beg for money in the city.Mar 21, 2013 at 1:27 pm #1968266
>This singular difference, in my eyes, keeps them fundamentally different, no matter how many parallels there are.
Kinda like legal and illegal aliens – there are a lot of similarities that can be draw – the difference is that illegal aspect.Mar 21, 2013 at 1:27 pm #1968267
>"Then of course you have to remember, they don't have the expenses we do. . . no mortgage, no PG&E bill, phone bill, etc. That's a lot of money if you don't have those expenses."
Nick: I noticed that myself in my 20's. My multiple-month road/camping/hiking trips were far cheaper than staying at home (with rent, social events, movies, etc).
And I notice it in the high-functioning homeless and the off-the-gridders we have up here. Throw up a cabin on 5 acres you paid $3,000 cash for and you don't have (and can't get) a mortgage, electrical service, natural gas, city water, sewer, fuel oil, home-owner's insurance, phone service, cable-TV, internet, or garbage pick up. They cut a lot of wood and have to buy some gasoline, two-stroke oil, fish hooks, and bullets. And most work 2-3 months of the year to earn some cash for such items.
On your or my success if we tried panhandling: Yes, we might not appear as pathetic, but being scary or extremely unhygienic is its own barrier. Also, almost everyone gives to, votes for, or hires people they can identify with in some way, who share some attributes with them.Mar 21, 2013 at 1:31 pm #1968268
Huh, interesting. Every time I dreamt of taking 6-8 months and tackling a long trail, I always wondered how people did it with jobs and waiting responsibilities. And I'm not implying that those who do long-distance hike are being irresponsible.
I'd be interested to know how many non-retired long distance hikers are in the same situation you describe, Greg.Mar 21, 2013 at 1:47 pm #1968273
Health issues, lower life expectancies, violence, malnutrition, crime, rape, drug use, police brutality, all are far more prevalent amongst homeless populations. Skid Row (Los Angeles) is rife with sexual abuse against homeless women and children, theft of their possessions, etc. Priority goes to women and children and the elderly for beds at night, but missions can only house a small fraction of them. There have been a few recent scandals down here involving hospitals dumping mentally ill elderly patients on the streets of LA. A couple months ago a homeless man was doused with gasoline and set on fire while he slept on a bench.
And here we are, sitting on the internet talking about how similar it must be to backpacking?
Shame. What a disconnect.Mar 21, 2013 at 2:20 pm #1968285
"I'd be interested to know how many non-retired long distance hikers are in the same situation you describe, Greg."
I was an incredibly weird bird on the trail. I was 45, married, good career, home in suburbia, two kids in college, one in middle school. I took a leave of a sense so I was the ONLY hiker I talked to that had a stable job upon my return. There were a couple of retirees but most folks were going through transition in their life, loss of job, divorce, leaving the military, couldn't get a job out of school etc. in retrospect I should have asked some of the homeless in Seattle to find out if there were similar life changes that led to where they were at.Mar 21, 2013 at 3:11 pm #1968297
@lopezLocale: San Gabriel Valley
Craig is dead on. From the very first line, I did not understand the point of this excersize. Comparing the two seems pretty morbid to me. Our lives revolve around the next lightest piece of gear. Theirs revolves around the next meal or bed. We are so comfortable that we go so far as to purposely make ourselves "homeless" so that we can connect with nature. Many of them have never know this level of comfort, and the ones that have are struggling to return to it. Basically extreme opposites, but let's just ignore that and look at their gear choices. Even funnier is the idea that we can somehow improve their situation but providing the right "gear". Haha!!Mar 21, 2013 at 3:28 pm #1968305
@justin_bakerLocale: Santa Rosa, CA
I always assumed that most young through hikers quit their job and became temporarily homeless to hike the trail.Mar 21, 2013 at 3:45 pm #1968309
@hknewmanLocale: Western US
Backpacking is a fairly expensive sport to enter with the initial gear outlay with a minimum amount of calories expended to stay on the trail.
Not to be confused with the typical homeless who are likely substance addicted, but also may be traumatized from combat, divorce, or financial falling etc…. Read a story about a former Silicon Valley exec homeless in her BMW for years (and if it could happen to her…). Most will stay around shelters for free breakfast, dinner, and possibly a bunk (… not my field but I had contract social workers work for me once – that's one location they could find recent combat veterans from reserve components reported as leaving their families), maybe a PO Box for checks from a caring relative … but not on the trail maxing out miles.Mar 21, 2013 at 3:51 pm #1968313
they arent on here yakking about what marginally lighter piece of gear theyre going to spend $$$$ on, but which isnt really any functionally better, theyre going to buy next …
THATS the difference ;)Mar 21, 2013 at 5:06 pm #1968345
@butukiLocale: Kanto Plain, Japan
And here we are, sitting on the internet talking about how similar it must be to backpacking?
Shame. What a disconnect.
I'm shocked by the indifference behind this thread. It's like a bunch of noblemen strutting around during a tea party offhandedly debating whether the starving peasants outside on the street below would prefer to eat strawberry cake or crumpets with cream. It is not at all the same. Not even close. What I find most harsh is the complete lack of empathy for the despair that homelessness brings. Perhaps none of you have ever known that kind of feeling; lucky for you. But, no matter how competent you may be skill-wise, falling out of luck or becoming mentally or physically ill or losing your home (which precludes you from getting a job), can all strike a giant blow to your confidence and willingness to get back up on your feet. Sure, some of those people messed up, but messing up is what happens to us all. The consequences are bigger for some. Some never get back up. But I guess people here would condemn them for "not being strong enough".
I'd be willing to bet that there have been/ are people who visit this site who are or have been homeless. Most are never going to tell anyone. For the most part because of the reaction that some of you have posted.
I may not like organized religion, and in particular the Christian Church, but one thing that the Church has always done is recognize the frailty of our lives, and has done much to help those who are destitute and starving and homeless. Shame on you for not doing the same.
As to the statement about backpackers living off the land? I'd say 99% of backpackers have never once in their lives actually had to depend on the land for survival, and if they suddenly had to, wouldn't know the first thing about what to do to survive. Many of you would be going to experienced homeless people for advice. It's a hard, hard world out there that we with our cars, our credit cards, our ultra-modern shelters and clothes, and sacks of prepared food brought from home are totally insulated from. Lose one of those things and we are at the mercy of the real world.Mar 21, 2013 at 6:01 pm #1968368
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