The Path Less Traveled #061: Homeless Encampments? Can You Defend

   08.22.22

The Path Less Traveled #061: Homeless Encampments? Can You Defend

As homeless encampments increase, it would be wise to consider whether you are well defended in the woods. A few members from my church made note to me they were going up to a local hiking spot to check up on some transient individuals that have been found living in the woods for some time. They know I’m pretty outdoorsy and have a modicum of knowledge regarding self defense. I was asked what they should be carrying, and whether I carry anything while completing local hikes or overnight camping sessions with friends.

Not being a worry-wart and enjoying nearly all activities that get me out more, I decided to follow them during an outreach session.


Welcome to our recurring series of “The Path Less Traveled.” In this series, we want to take you along for our exploits in the wilderness while hiking, camping, exploring, and general adventuring. This will include our small daily victories, foibles, tips, tricks, and reviews of gear we authentically appreciate and frequently utilize. While a well-worn trail can often be the pathway to a leisurely day, the paths less traveled can often spur on some of the greatest memories, misadventures, and fun we could imagine. Join us in the Comments as we share our travels and hopefully, we can all come together for a greater appreciation of the outdoors.


Out in the woods? Be safe, read these:

city homeless encampments increase guns while hiking backpacking Homeless Encampments Increase Well Defended West Virginia Hiking Trailhead
Small, somewhat organized campsite at this homeless encampment.

Answering Questions

First off, you should carry as much as you can or feel comfortable carrying when going into an unknown situation.

If you conceal carry something regularly, continue doing so. If you don’t consistently train with your concealed carry pistol, bring the gun you have the best accuracy with. As stated in our last homeless encampment article, the sight of a gun will make most people reconsider their actions. Stopping a target is the main concern. Accuracy is a great way to incapacitate anything that is threatening your life.

hike bike concealed carry backpacking packrafting Homeless Encampments Increase Well Defended
Trash and belongings at a homeless encampments at a West Virginia Trailhead near road and housing.

Do I carry on every hike? Nope. A lot of hikes, I’ll never see another person, and the biggest critter will be a squirrel or deer. Often, the area is so well known to me that I didn’t consider bringing it. Instances like uncovering homeless encampments are having me reconsider my actions.

What Do I Carry?

Being a weight weenie, you know I only carry the finest. Er, I mean the lightest. My collection of concealed carry pistols while in the woods are prioritized in this manner:

  1. (Loaded) Weight
  2. Accuracy
  3. How cool does it look?***

Currently, for hiking trips, I have been cycling through three guns:

  • KelTec P32 (190 g / 6.6 oz) / P3AT (240 g / 8.3 oz)
  • Glock 42  (345 g / 12.17 oz)
  • Smith & Wesson Model 317 (331 g / 11.7 oz)

*** = 75% Humor

(Just in case you were interested, the husband of one of the outreach members had his old off-duty Glock 27.)

homeless consider whether defended woods self defense backpacking Homeless Encampments Increase Well Defended West Virginia hiking trailhead
Donated supplies to squatters at homeless encampment – Church Outreach activity.

Assessment

Upon arriving to this encampment, we assessed the area as there were no one around. It appeared two or three groups of individuals were camping in the area. From the amount of detritus left around, we were guessing this has been a hotspot for the homeless to live for maybe a full calendar year. It’s kind of hard to guess this kind of thing.

homeless encampments popping concealed carry hiking Homeless Encampments Increase Well Defended West Virginia Hiking Trail Trailhead garbage trash litter mattress
Trash and litter found at homeless encampment in the woods near trailhead. Heck, they carried a mattress up the hill onto the hiking trail!

Action

Due to no one being at this trailhead area, we decided to leave some groceries near what seemed to be the most active and “new” looking tent. We covered the groceries with a large clear piece of plastic you would use as a drop cloth when painting, hoping they could use this to cover their tent or develop additional storage space protected from rain.

In this pile of goods, we left some bottled water, about three days worth of food for four people, and papers sealed in a sealed gallon baggy. These papers included phone numbers to local homeless shelters, local groups who could help them seek housing, a phone, or even just a shower.

One of the Outreach member’s children made some cards with words of encouragement. While this could possibly mean very little to someone living in the woods on the outskirts of town, it could also help them remember not everyone sees the homeless as a problem that needs removed rather than guided back to citizenship.

notice vacate encampment self defense trails camping Homeless Encampments Increase Well Defended trash waste refuse left in the woods by homeless
Wes estimated this accumulated roughly in a year from glancing at expiration dates on bags and packages.

After Observation / Encounter

Once we assessed the amount of established shelters and refuse in the woods, we provided this information to the county homelessness coalition. They indicated a case worker will intermittently visit and see whether anyone in the encampment desires assistance with the local DSS/DHHR for services, or to travel to a nearby county for shelter.

An individual in the outreach team felt bad about communicating with outside agencies regarding groups of people living in the woods. They soon realized there are several laws being broken by their trespassing, littering, and potential substance use, amongst other unknown variables if children were also staying there. Being able to have more than one group of people attempting to provide guidance and assistance allows a non-punitive method of trying to get the homeless off the streets out of the woods. If there were any indications of violence, immediate danger, or other dangers, protective services or police agencies would have been contacted without hesitation.

This is not a problem seen only in my area; places all over the nation have had homeless encampments in their recreational hiking and trail areas since the dawn of recreational camping / hiking.

Here’s a recent article from Kalamazoo, Michigan speaking with the homeless in their wooded hiking areas. While I may personally not have as much long-term sympathy as others, I very much understand the damage and dangers the homeless can create in their encampments.

park ranger homelessness coalition concealed carry trails camping Homeless Encampments Increase Well Defended
At the back end near that metal container, there was an impromptu bicycle repair / chop shop.

Homeless Encampment Self Defense Summary

I’m always glad to try and help those out who have gotten to a point where they believe living in a tent in the woods, surrounded by trash is now their de facto standard of living. If people are still living there when night time temperatures reach freezing levels, the homelessness coalition will be called to reassess the squatters’ needs or to take the necessary actions.

When getting into strange situations like this, I’m very glad when no one is around. While it may be easier to assess needs when talking to people, the risk of running into a person who is on their second day of being awake after a meth binge is not the time to attempt remembering and reciting de-escalation techniques you took a couple years ago.

people experiencing homelessness encampments self defense hiking Homeless Encampments Increase Well Defended
Someone attempted to clean up after themselves.

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