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By Reid Wright

Gravel crunched under the tires as Astro-Shark crawled to a stop on a mesa near Virgin, Utah. Dusk approached as I pried myself out of the captain’s chair and lumbered awkwardly over to the canyon’s edge.

A brown river flowed gently between its massive sandstone walls, sand bars drifting below the water’s surface. From the lush willow patches on the banks, frogs chirped. The birds and insects chimed in, harmonizing to form tonight’s twilight symphony. I felt at home.

If home is where the heart is, then my heart was launched into the stratosphere and blasted into a million gleaming bits that rained down on all the beautiful places of the high desert — probably to be snacked on by the crows like beef jerky.

I pitched my tent and was awakened twice, having a hard time getting back to sleep. First by a midnight windstorm, then early the next morning by a woman walking her dog. She walked quietly by my tent, not peeking in and not calling the authorities. I sure appreciated that.

I read a study somewhere that said an overwhelming majority of a homeless people suffer from mental illness. I like to think they are just drunk on their own freedom, but it’s true that some of them have wandered deep into guanoland.

If the study is accurate, I’d hypothesize that most of these folks simply suffer from sleep deprivation. It’s hard to get a REM cycle when you’re sleeping in a flapping tent, dripping mine shaft, trickling culvert or noisy back alley. As if the weather and wildlife weren’t bad enough, the authorities go out of their way to harass the homeless — trying to coax them to pick up and move on to another town.

It sounds like paranoia, until they come after you. Bumming it in Arizona as a teenager, I was amazed at how much effort they put in to harassing me — leaving me threatening notes and reporting my car abandoned.

In Utah, you’ve got to look out for the local cops, forest rangers and Utah secret police — with their black SUVs and re-education camps.

There's got to be something behind these razor-wire gates in the middle of nowhere. And it sure isn't uncle Jimmy's porn stash.

Well there's got to be something behind these razor-wire gates in the middle of nowhere. It sure isn't uncle Sam's porn stash.

Not everyone chooses to be homeless, and the faces of homelessness are changing. Since the collapse of the housing market and the start of the recession, middle class families and business tycoons are losing their homes all over the nation — victims of foreclosures, layoffs and the credit trap. Tent cities are popping up under freeways and in vacant lots on the outskirts of major cities like Sacramento and Seattle.

So the next time you see someone sleeping in the park, let them be. You could be next.


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