About one month ago the Flagstaff Police Department began an effort to “sweep forests of homeless camps.” The rationale for the military-like operation (involving helicopters and several other government agencies) is that the houseless population that lives in the woods around the city create a fire hazard by burning fires to keep warm and cook with. Camping itself is not illegal in the vast expanse of pine woods that surround Flagstaff – part of the Coconino National Forest – but “any unimproved camp using a fire or in place for more than 14 days is illegal” (Arizona Daily Sun, http://www.azdailysun.com/, June 17, 2007).

I’ve long passed through Flagstaff and camped in the woods myself. Although I’m not part of the houseless community that inhabits the woodlands, I can appreciate the beauty, comfort and seclusion that the hills offer. Even though Flagstaff was recently ranked as one of the “meanest” cities toward the houseless and poor, it’s still a wonderful place to live free. Sure, the winters are cold and heavy in snow, but the town is a great western junction for travelers like myself. The assault on camping and the city’s draconian turn against tramps, hobos, travelers and the houseless worries me much.

Of course the problem all of this entails is most serious for the chronically houseless, a population that includes many veterans, sick and disabled persons, and impoverished Dine. I wonder what the future holds for these folks.

I’ve always had an affinity with those who live on the margins of society, in the cracks and crevices, under the bridges and behind buildings, in the woods just beyond the city’s limits. It’s not that idealize these communities. The men and women who live these rough and tumble lives are often no better, kinder, or more humble than the mainstream of America who live under roofs, hold steady jobs, and keep their various addictions in a “manageable” state. There is something, however, to the ethos that many vagabonds and squatters profess that resonates in my heart. It’s the carefree attitude. Live and let live. It’s the anti-materialism of so many of them; the fact that possessions never meant anything. Finally, something that draws me in tightly and reassures me are the various “sicknesses,” “compulsions,” and “deviances” of those who live on the margins.

I’ll keep this last affinity cryptic and only explain that by the philosophy I live by, people who are well adjusted in this fucked up world must have something seriously wrong with them.

May the police find nothing. Down with the castles, peace to the camps!

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