Camping an Interim Housing Option for Vets

Mikey Simpson, Army Veteran; 2018 Ventura County Stand Down; Widow of a Veteran Helps Veterans

Living at Ventura County campgrounds is a viable option for homeless veterans. This is true especially if the veteran is able to obtain a Distinguished Veteran pass, available through California State Parks, or an Access Pass, available through the National Park Service.

I didn’t plan on full-time camping. I was trying to buy a house with a VA loan. This proved too difficult to do in Ventura County because my prequalification was only $90,000.

I did find a house in Taft and made an offer. I moved out of my apartment so that I could use the deposit for the closing costs, but the house I made an offer on ended up needing too many repairs for the VA lender to approve it.

I didn’t end up with the house I was trying to buy, but I now know the best way to camp cost effectively. This allows a lot of freedom and independence to move around and not be locked into the housing authority system or other programs that require tons of paperwork and other inconveniences.

In the 14 weeks I have been camping, I’ve learned some valuable information about camping options for veterans in Ventura County and the surrounding counties. When I say camping, I am including tent, RV, trailer and even car camping.

I share this as a possible resource for other veterans who are in a situation similar to mine and are considering camping as an interim solution to permanent housing.

If you have a disability rating through the VA, you can get an Access Pass that allows free entry into all the national parks and gives you half off on most camping in national parks and some privately owned camps that have agreements with the national forest service.

The state parks Distinguished Veteran pass requires that the veteran have a disability rating of at least 50% and served during a time of war. This pass allows free camping at state parks.

There are local campgrounds that are not associated with the state or national parks. Ventura County campgrounds including Faria Beach, Camp Comfort and Oak Park will waive camping fees for holders of the Distinguished Veteran pass, although other fees may apply.

Visit ventura.org/visitors/ campgrounds or venturaparks.org for more information about campsites in the county.

Some limitations with camping have to do with how many days per year you are allowed to camp. For example, the Ventura County campgrounds allow a total of 90 days per year if 30 of those days are during the offseason, November through March.

You would have to keep track of how many days you spend within the county campgrounds and make sure you are using the national and state park camps, private camps and sites in other counties like Santa Barbara for the other days of the year.

Not everyone sees camping as an alternative to traditional housing. One community professional who I know from doing homeless outreach at Gold Coast Veterans Foundation said it wouldn’t work for everyone:

“For most homeless veterans, camping should not be looked at as a solution. For many veterans, camping puts them one very tenuous step away from homeless and getting back into that cycle again.”

But while it might not be a good choice for all homeless veterans, it could be an option for some. If someone refuses to accept government assistance and does not want to accept what they might consider a handout from charities, staying at a campground may be the only alternative to living on the streets.

There is a big difference between sleeping at a campground and camping in unauthorized areas or finding random places to sleep in your car. First of all, sleeping in a campground is legal. And you have privacy; there are bathrooms, even showers in some places, and no problems with people reporting you for being on private property. There are quiet hours, usually from 9 p.m. to 7 a.m., and other rules that basically amount to common courtesy.

Living in county campgrounds is not the same as being homeless, especially if you are able to buy an RV with its own shower and bathroom. It is more like having multiple residences everywhere you go—the beach, the mountains, the forests—just waiting for you to pull in and make yourself at home.

Stoneman works as a veterans mobile outreach coordinator for the Camarillo-based nonprofit Gold Coast Veterans Foundation. For more information, call (805) 482-6550 or visit gcvf.org.

Source: Acorn article from July 18, 2019