A Pseudo Homeless Issue

Home Is Where The Van Is

Home Is Where The Van Is


September 2, 2016 1:45 PM

I don’t usually get involved with—nor post about—van dwelling issues, but this one may interest those of you who are attracted to this lifestyle.

There is a federal law that says you can’t live on public, federal land. Camping is fine, living on it is a no-no. This is a concern for many full time RV’ers (the “forest residence” issue), but has never been a concern for me.

Below is an email thread exchanged earlier today with a full timing friend of mine.

Note: I mention Bob Wells in it, but let me clarify that I love and respect him and agree with 90% of the things he stands for (who agrees with everything anyone says?), just not the stay-in-one-camp-all-season practice. He’s helped countless, financially distressed people find a very practical and affordable alternative to homelessness and for that he’s practically a saint in my book.

Full Time RV’er:

Wayne, have you noticed the most recent post at [WGW: A link to another full timer’s post about getting a ticket for staying too long in one area]?

The challenge here is to avoid the extremes of living in a fool’s paradise, (aka, being in denial) and the other extreme of giving into fear.

Personally, I have never gotten a ticket, but I see a ranger only once every year or two, so it is hard to conclude anything from this. Maybe I’ve just been lucky and camped in unpopular places.

What has your experience been with “forest residence tickets?”


I probably get visited by a ranger or deputy once every 2-3 months. Probably because my rig doesn’t look like an RV. But this is also why I have never had any problem as it’s obvious to them that I’m not a squatter. I might stay in an area for months (I’ve been here over two months), but because I move around so much, no one hassles me. I don’t even see how they could give me a ticket as there is no way for them to track me. Even if they did come across me twice in a three week period, I’d just honestly say, “I move all the time.” I often move between areas (ie: Mt. Hood and Rufus or Flagstaff and Williams) so that helps.

So it’s sort of like comparing apples to oranges: I don’t squat, nor even push the limits, so I don’t have the problems that many full-timers have with the authorities. This means I move a lot, but if you look at most full-timers, they get antsy and leave their camp in their tow vehicle about every 3-4 days, then return to camp. I just don’t return to camp. 🙂

Full Time RV’er:

What do the rangers ask you?


There are two types of approaches. When they are confused about what a commercial vehicle is doing in the woods, it’s more curiosity. I then explain it’s a camper and I’m a writer and invite them to take a look inside (to alleviate any criminal suspicions). This sometimes leads to the second reason which is “How long have you been here/how long are you staying?” My reply is always, “I never stay in one place more than a week.”

They have never taken an interest in me living in the woods, never broached the subject even though I make it clear that I live this way. The whole purpose of the law (and their concern) is squatters. People “owning” all the good campsites, trashing them, scaring off the neighbors, cooking meth, etc. They could care less about people like me. Hell, most of them are even envious.

Full Time RV’er:

This all makes sense to me, but why don’t they ask, “Is this your residence?” And how would you dance your way out of that?


Why don’t they ask? Because 90% of the time I tell them I live in it. When I’m showing them the rig I usually say, “Yeah, this is my home. I travel full time in it… all over the country. I write for a living, so there’s no need for me to be locked into any one place. That ladder on the side makes me practically invisible in the cities.”

They aren’t interested in people like me, people who move about. They’re interested in people abusing the privilege of being able to camp on public land, and I don’t. It’s obvious to them that I don’t. They want more people like me (versus squatters), so why would they ticket me?

If I ever got ticketed, then I’d think about it next time. In the mean time, it’s simply not worth it to me to be concerned. Which is more valuable, restricting my movements because of the FEAR of a ticket, a fear of something that doesn’t even exist in my physical surroundings, or my freedom? That’s a no-brainer to me.

My guiding principle is—and it comes out in my attitude when dealing with authorities—if I feel I’m doing something wrong, then I am. If I don’t, then I’m not. Ergo, the happy, carefree, and welcoming attitude I automatically present to rangers, law enforcement, etc. Never had a problem once they realize I’m not “up to” anything.

I used to squat before I had the van (a class-C and the trailer/truck combo), so I understand your concern, but like I said, apples and oranges.

Squatters do piss me off though. I understand why full timers squat—it’s a pain to move—but they don’t seem to be seeing the big picture. It’s like they are all in denial. I love Bob Wells but he is a vocal advocate for squatting. They and most full timers are abusing the privilege of federal lands and rather than listen to the warning short fired by the authorities (the residency issue), they are just trying to avoid it. The residency issue is only the first step to cutting down on abuse. The next step, the one I’m concerned with, will be “You must have a permit to camp on all federal land.” Even if the permits are free, they’d be a pain in my butt since I don’t know where I’m going to be tomorrow nor how long I’ll be there. “No permit? Here’s a $500 fine. Now get out of my forest.” Yuck.

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6 thoughts on “A Pseudo Homeless Issue

  1. The tragedy of the commons in another guise. Some people will abuse or overuse free resources – it’s just part of the wide range of human behaviours. Nothing to be done about it I suspect.

  2. We live full-time in an Airstream. We travel from place to place. We don’t consider ourselves homeless. We are houseless.

    We have yet to boondock on federal land, so have not been questioned by authorities. I guess that day will come at some point.

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