Phoenix's Homeless Escape the Summer Heat to the Big Rock Candy Mountains of Flagstaff

The guys should be here somewhere. Last time Nick Wood saw them, they were just past a clearing where the power lines hum, tucked into the pine forest on the other side of a downed section of barbed-wire fence.

Their firewood still is stashed there, neatly covered with a green tarp battened down with rocks. There's a fork sitting on one log, and the trash in the stone fire ring seems fresh. There's even a dry copy of Ernest Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises sitting under a pine tree a few yards away. Three soggy sleeping bags are laid out under another tree, possibly left out to dry and unexpectedly caught in an afternoon storm. But the guys are nowhere to be seen.

"See, this worries me," Wood says. "I don't know why they would leave their bags out like this."

Randall Nicholson, blamed for last year's Hardy fire, was camped on the outskirts of Flagstaff, where a lot of homeless people spend the summer, thanks to the city's enviable summer climate and friendly, tolerant locals.
Courtesy of the Flagstaff Police Department
Randall Nicholson, blamed for last year's Hardy fire, was camped on the outskirts of Flagstaff, where a lot of homeless people spend the summer, thanks to the city's enviable summer climate and friendly, tolerant locals.
Transient camper Nicholson forced evacuations and cost taxpayers nearly a million dollars in firefighting costs.
Transient camper Nicholson forced evacuations and cost taxpayers nearly a million dollars in firefighting costs.

It's Wood's job to worry — and to find these guys. He's in charge of the homeless-outreach program at Flagstaff Catholic Charities, which aims to contact people sleeping in the woods around this northern Arizona college town and offer them a path back into society.

For months, he's been working with one of these men, a guy who came from Phoenix, making the 140-mile journey, remarkably, by bicycle. Wood cut through red tape to order a new copy of the guy's birth certificate, and, as with almost everyone he chats up, offered him new clothes and a hot meal. But now he's nowhere to be found.

If the men who were camped out in this spot went into town to seek day labor without securing their sleeping bags, they could be in for a long, cold night. They may have left in a hurry, too, since the truck stop that owns this property has asked police to crack down on trespassers. The cops have obliged, hunting homeless people by spotting their fires from a helicopter at night, then moving in at dawn to break up their campsites. Camping — even sleeping in a car — is illegal within Flagstaff's city limits, and police here enforce that law, even mounting a posse of citizens to comb the forest and call in coordinates.

Such measures sound extreme, but it's hard to blame the cops or residents of this city of 65,000 for being on edge. The area Wood is searching now is the same tract of land where a fire started by a transient from California burned nearly 300 acres last year. The Hardy fire was just outside town, forcing the evacuation of more than 100 homes and costing nearly $1 million to fight. The mustachioed and disheveled homeless man who started the fire, Randall Wayne Nicholson, had his mug splashed all over Arizona media and has since found a residence indoors — he's serving a year and a half in jail.

As the summer gets hotter and drier in this tinderbox town surrounded by the nation's largest Ponderosa pine forest, tensions build. Like a lot of people in "Flag," especially advocates for the homeless, Wood prays for summer rain. If the fire risk gets any higher, rangers may elevate the fire ban to a full closure of the national forest, keeping all visitors out and forcing the homeless into overcrowded shelters, jail, or deep hiding.

Usually, it's the latter.

"I've found that the people who stay in the forest aren't necessarily the type of folks who'd be deterred by closure," Wood says, snapping photos of the site. "They're incredible campers."

Many of the people camping in the woods around Flagstaff — the guys Wood is looking for right now — don't fit the common conception of urban panhandlers. They're what used to be known as hobos — independent-minded and mostly self-sufficient drifters who prefer to live rootless and outdoors, keeping their overhead low and getting by on day-labor gigs. Sometimes, they're living it up out there, leaving enough empties to shame any ASU frat-house. But when tensions are high — as they are now over fire danger — the hobos lay low.

"They're really hiding," Wood says. "When there's more attention, they go deeper into the forest. If someone doesn't want to be found, they're not going to be found — though we're pretty good at finding them."

There are a lot of them to look for this time of year, thanks in part to Phoenix's brutal heat.

Flagstaff's homeless population balloons in the summer as people travel north to escape the 110-plus-degree days in the low desert. The homeless migration, as some in Flag label it, is a regular, annual phenomenon, though exactly how many people are involved isn't clear. Some say it's thousands.

The drifters who end up here seem to like it — this beautiful mountain town makes a nice getaway for desert-dwellers, especially them. Some describe it with words that sound like something out of Harry McClintock's old hobo anthem "Big Rock Candy Mountain," about a land that's fair and bright, where you sleep out every night, picking cigarettes off trees and drinking lemonade from a spring.

Maricopa County's estimated 8,000 homeless people is comparable to the homeless populations of Seattle or San Diego. However, as the Valley's mild winters give way to blazing summers, things get dangerous. A July 2005 heat wave is blamed for killing 15 homeless people in Phoenix. Traveling 140 miles north to escape the oven makes sense, which probably is why about 20 percent of the intakes at Flagstaff Shelter Services from April through June — as the mercury began to rise — come from Phoenix, Mesa, or Tucson.

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7 comments
Nikodisias Papalapsuslos
Nikodisias Papalapsuslos

YES , WE CAN...YES , WE CAN...WE WILL WIN IN WAR ON TERROR (30 whities or what are terrorists will never come back alive...thank you lord....aaamen).

What do you mean tragedy! It was just a birthday present for planet apes president !!! That's all ! Feels great to flip hamburgers and hip hop atop of good news...makes you feel vibrant and energized !!!

ARIZONA = UTOYA = GOVERNMENT‘S "AFTERLIFE" CASH & $$ FLASH MOB (there was no shooting in Utoya or Arizona, but tear gas and theater instead on faces of multiculturalism maniacs..your guilt or blame and shame weapon against us and our families in our own countries atop of forceful unemployment during so called "ECONOMIC CRISES" during which third world foreigners are allowed to rape, kill, and still is nothing else but fast way to early retirements for government related criminals/ terrorists...$$$ extra bonuses, and newly issued state identities while calling you a terrorists) !!! http://stateofterror.blogspot.... or http://stateofterror.wordpress...

OBAMA = STALIN = BUSH or USA = SOVIET UNION http://avsecbostjan.blogspot.c... or http://avsecbostjan.wordpress.... Whitie is fighting war on terrorism just to come home and be pronounced as terrorist...turned in Timothy, jobless, homeless ...YESSS, WE CAN...YESSS, WE CAN...GABBY OPENED HER EYES (Obaminator’s psychotic speech in Tucson = failed “Apocalypse Now“)

WAKE-UP !!! WAKE UP PEOPLE BEFORE IT GETS ALL TO LATE ON PLANET APES !!! TEARS WON'T DO YOU ANY GOOD !!! AS BUSH STATED "THAT'S WHAT THEY ARE PAID FOR"(to die ) !!

EVEN IF IRAQ WOULD HAVE BEEN WAR FOR OIL ONLY, VETERANS WOULDN'T NEVER EVER HAVE TO BE HOMELESS PEOPLE THE WAY THEY ARE AND NOR WOULD OUR PEOPLE HAVE TO DIE ALLOVER THE PLACE THE WAY THEY DO TO VERY TODAY(never ending “war on terror” story). BECAUSE EVEN IF WAR WAS FOR THE SAKE OF MONEY, MONEY SHOULD BE USED FOR AMERICAN CITIZENS AND NOT WHAT THE CASE IS OR AGAINST WHITES(to destroy us allover the world) !!! You don't really proof for 911, just put your sht together in your heads...THIS IS PLENTY ENOUGH TO HAVE O(B)SAMA INDICTED FOR CRIMES COMMITTED AGAINST WHITE AMERICAN HUMANITY TOGETHER WITH HIS ZIONIST MASTERS) !!!

Don't worry O(s)bama, you have just saved USA what is lots of Dollars in your DEBT DEALS as those best of America or Navy Seals would also grew older and then you already know how it goes...DEAD & ILL = DEBT DEAL !!!

HOW MUCH FURTHER ARE WE WILLING TO GO IN ORDER TO PLEASE VERY SAME PEOPLE WHO DENY US EVEN THE RIGHT TO EXISTENCE(what is to you country without laws or lawless country in respect to your personal rights, but the one that in contrast to your denied basic human rights recognizes you extremely liable when payments are due) !!?

IS IT INDEPENDENCE THAT WE CELEBRATE OR DEPENDENCE (what are your credit card bills or alimony saying about it) !!? HOW IS YOUR DIABETES AND LOST MARRIAGES !!? FORECLOSURES AND JOB SEARCH !!? THAT IS THE QUESTION TO BE OR NOT TO BE !!! IS IT LAND OF THE FREE OR STATE OF TERROR AGAINST OWN POPULATION !!? IT IS TIME TO LET THEM KNOW WHAT COLOR ARE THE STRIPES ON OUR STAR SPANGLED BANNER !!! TIME TO DETERMINE WHOSE INDEPENDENCE/AMERICA, WE CELEBRATE TODAY(who wants to erase us and denies us the right to exist) !!! IT IS IMPORTANT TO KNOW WHOM WE ADDRESS WITH "PRESIDENT" (STOP HUMILIATING YOURSELF) !!!

VOTING POLL:

DO WE NEED MORE PROOFS TO INDICT OBAMA AND BUSH ADMINISTRATION FOR CRIMES COMMITTED AGAINST WHITE HUMANITY !!?

1)NO, THEY ARE CLEARLY GUILTY AS OIL WAR NEVER EVER WAS REAL ISSUE IN GENOCIDE AGAINST WHITES. REAL ISSUE ARE FACTS OR WHAT WE WITNESS TODAY WHEN VETERANS ARE HOMELESS, JOBLESS, KILLED, ETC.

2)NO, AS 911 ALONE AS WELL AS ACTIONS IMPOSED AGAINST WHITES IN USA (as well worldwide) ARE CLEARLY INDICATING ACTS OF GENOCIDE AGAINST WHITE HUMANITY

3)YESS AS JUST YESTERDAY(for over 15 years to very yesterday), WE (news/media = vacuum world of lies) WERE TELLING YOU THAT UNEMPLOYMENT WAS AT 10% WHILE TODAY ONE IS AT 50% (HOW COME NO ONE QUESTION JOURNALISM LIKE THIS OR WHAT IS WORLD OF LIES AND DEMENTIA)!

4)I AGREE WITH FIRST TWO ANSWERS ABOVE. IT IS TIME TO PRESS CRIMINAL CHARGES AGAINST BOTH ADMINISTRATIONS DUE TO ACTS OF GENOCIDE AGAINST WHITE HUMANITY FOR THE SAKE(SAFETY) OF US AND OUR CHILDREN(DO NOT TURN THEM IN WHITE REFUGEES ON PLANET APES OR WHAT YOU ARE ABOUT TO SEE WHEN VISITING ABOVE PAGES) !!!

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Skrapps
Skrapps

Good. Good to have some Cizmar every now and again. To ammend, those citizen patrols and night flights this year were in response to current fire conditions and almost daily hobo-camp-started wildfires. Just little ones, but they all have potential to ruin the lives of many people.

 
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