Residents of ‘tent community’ say living outdoors is their choice | News

SOUTH KINGSTOWN, RI – This town has a small off-grid community within the community. You could call it a “tent community,” where the homeless live alone or in small groups in the woods all year round.

It’s a community that city officials acknowledge exists, but they don’t try to hunt or disperse because its people have nowhere to go. Area pantries and social service organizations turn to help, but only when the homeless ask for help.

Those who have spoken with these homeless tent residents say most refuse help. They prefer their life on the South County border to the common idea that the homeless need help. The tents, in fact, are the homes of these squatters even though they are on borrowed land.

John’s story

“I’m doing this of my own choosing. I don’t have to do this. If I really, really wanted to, I could rent a room somewhere. I just don’t want to, ”said John, who declined to give his last name.

“I wouldn’t mind my name on paper and in the photo, but it’s just living here in town my whole life. My family spends a lot of time in this area, ”he said in an interview with The Independent.

He said he has lived in the woods of South Kingstown for almost three years and this is the second time he has done so.

His tent is a considerable distance from an enclave of five other people off Kingstown Road and about four or five more in a wooded area off Point Judith Road in Narragansett. Local ordinances prohibit setting up tent sites and sleeping at night in city parks and private lands are governed by permission from owners.

John, 54, is happy to say he has been diagnosed with mental health issues, has had addiction issues for over 40 years and is now a year and four months after starting his last attempt at recovery.

“I used to rent a room from a friend of my friend’s mother, but when she died I left because the house was such a bad drug house. I can’t be with people because I’m too easily influenced, ”he said.

This lifestyle in the woods suits his mental attitude to life right now, he said.

He doesn’t believe people are trying to help him really understand his choice, John added. He said he thought his decision was sound and rational, and added that he even discusses it with a psychiatrist once every six months or so for a psychiatric disorder and to continue his disability payments.

“I don’t want to be under anyone’s thumb. I don’t want to impose. I like to be in the woods. I like to feed the deer. I feed a few foxes and all that, you know. This is how I am, ”he said.

John said he lives on $ 832 a month in Federal Social Security disability. The first thing to take care of is Ginger, his 14-year-old beagle companion whom he drags in a dog trailer behind his bike.

This care includes Ginger’s food and vet’s bills, as the dog has advanced diabetes, he said.

The remaining amount is used to buy food for himself, although he also receives pantry supplies, propane, and fees for a storage unit where he keeps anything that doesn’t come into the woods with him. him, he said.

John said he was a commercial fisherman for many years, but his alcohol use, drugs, occasional violent habits and other offenses got him in trouble. They also separated him from his two children, a 35-year-old son and a 25-year-old daughter, he said.

“I haven’t seen him since he was three years old. He said he didn’t want anything to do with me. He said I tried to kill his mother, ”John said, pausing before the follow-up question to see if it was true.

“Yes I did. I went home and found her with another man and pulled out my shotgun and shot them both,” said the man claiming to be being married three times. ”On his arm, he says, is a tattoo portrait of his daughter.

“I don’t know what happened to him. She and I were very close until she moved to Florida. She is her own person and she has her own life and I try not to let that bother me, ”he said.

John also admitted that he suffered from a delusional disorder and that the facts are not always correct or the scenes are always remembered correctly. Yet many of the facts he tells about his life verify correctly.

Other tent sites

That’s part of the problem, say mental health and community health experts, who care for the homeless, especially those who live outside. Some answer questions when addressed, others do not, and the information provided may be sketchy, they said.

A week ago, Joe “Tiger” Patrick, commanding officer of the South Kingstown Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 916, went looking for the homeless in tents in the woods off Kingstown Road. He wanted to see if any veterans needed help.

Almost a mile or so back into the woods, a green, camouflage, medium-sized tent was pitched under a tree. Its opening was zipped. A blue tarp lay nearby. A black bag appeared dropped a short distance away, perhaps when someone heard the approaching visitors.

He called, but no one answered. The hike continued. Soon another tent, covered with a second blue tarp to keep out the cold, appeared in a clearing. A plastic bag was at the door. A clothesline hung between two neighboring trees.

Again, no answer. Other tents were also scattered through the woods.

“If these people need anything, I’d love to help them,” said Patrick, whose VFW Post at 155 High St. has a roadside pantry for people.

James Kerns, executive director of Welcome House, a shelter at 8 North Road for the homeless, said he had visited these and other pop-up tent sites in Narragansett over the past two years for the one-time tally January.

It is an annual survey of homeless people in the United States, conducted by local agencies called Continuums of Care on behalf of the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development.

“Most want to be there. When people are exhausted, they just say, “I’ll go live in a tent – No rules, it’s easier”. I don’t think the cops give them too much trouble unless they put themselves in danger and they wouldn’t have access to help if they needed it, ”he said. .

City concerns

South Kingstown City Manager Robert Zarnetske agreed.

“We are aware that they are there. Anytime the police realize that public safety is in jeopardy, we have to take action, ”he said.

Police Chief Sean Corrigan in Narragansett said his town’s tent enclaves appear periodically and police will conduct health checks if an issue is reported to the department.

In South Kingstown, Police Chief Joel Ewing-Chow said his department typically receives calls about tent camp sites in the Kingstown Road area during hot weather. Police also found old abandoned settlements, he added.

“Our agency is sympathetic to those who may not have the capacity or the resources to find suitable shelter. We are trying to suggest the reception house as a possible location for accommodation, ”said the chef.

Zarnetske said the individual choices of tent residents to live in the woods, regardless of the time of year, must be understood both in a mental health context and in a decision of personal freedom.

A community mental health agency is the most appropriate agency to deal with this situation, he said, adding that he is including the proposed funds in his budget plan for next year to establish it.

This agency can look at the many facets of the situation much better than a single avenue of intervention from a single municipal agency, such as the police, if it is simply to move someone off public land, a- he added.

“Some people have mental health crises in the woods every day in many forms. We need to make sure that a mechanism is in place to ensure that these crises are not disastrous, ”he said.

For John, who lives in the woods off Kingstown Road, he appreciates this attention, but doesn’t see himself impoverished and says he believes other people’s lives are more troubled than his own.

He echoed his late grandmother who once told him to warn him: ‘Look around you think you feel bad, what about a person in a wheelchair who doesn’t. has no legs, cannot move its legs, arms, do not have any bodily function. “

“I am like any other human being, I have problems. I tried to hide my feelings behind alcohol, drugs, whatever, so that I wouldn’t have to think about my problems, ”he said.

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