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Camp Free on Public Land: Leave No Trace

Leave No Trace

Review: ‘Leave No Trace’ Is a Very American Story About Survival Manohla Dargis, Co-Chief Film Critic, New York Times, June 28, 2018.

The dense green foliage that surrounds the man and his daughter in “Leave No Trace” seems to hold them as if in sheltering arms. It is a blissful, serene scene, one set to the sounds of human movement and the familiar natural buzzing, chirping and whirring. The tall mossy trees and carpet of ferns suggest that it’s the Pacific Northwest, somewhere deep in the woods. Father and daughter seem to be camping — there are tarps as well as a fire pit, though no car or other people in sight — but then the girl sits on a plastic milk crate and the two settle into the site they call home. 

The setting is Forest Park, Portland, Oregon. The next scene is unmistakably Portland, Oregon. Portland Police armed, chase father (Will) and daughter (Tom) with attack dogs. Will is handcuffed and led away leaving Tom alone at the mercy of a “social worker.”

Will and Tom have committed the crime of camping in Forest Park, a public municipal park west of downtown Portland. Perhaps Will was confused since camping is allowed in Oregon State Forests and in most National Forests and Grasslands.

Tom is 13 years old. Will and Tom have been living in Forest Park for at least several years. Will and Tom existed peacefully, practicing LEAVE NO TRACE, the rules of DISPERSED CAMPING. Will “self-medicated” his PSTD by living isolated in nature while caring for his daughter in the best way he knew how.

Will taught Tom well. Academically, Tom is above grade level. Later in the film, Tom saves Will’s life. It is unclear if Will attempted suicide or fell by mistake.  Tom finds help in an off-the-grid community where she decides to stay when Will moves on. Tom makes this transition, while still respecting her father and his need for isolation to treat his PSTD.

Eagles Brother Jeff Rifflard at the VA Hospital

Jeff Rifflard and Debra Granik at the VA Hospital

Jeff Rifflard and Debra Granik at the VA Hospital

Jeff Rifflard works with often homeless veterans with PSTD. Jeff started Diabetic Socks for Veterans to education Vets about the importance of foot care, preventing amputations. Whenever Jeff raises $500.00, he goes to the Dollar Tree Store, buys 500 pair of socks, prints foot care instructions and sets up his table in the lobby at the VA. Jeff gives each vet 3 pares of socks until the socks are gone.

Every time Will and Tom encountered “civilization”, helicopters overhead, chainsaws harvesting Christmas trees, I found myself cringing with fear that Will would go off the deep end and something terrible will happen.

Portland Police “Sweep” the Camp of Vets in Forest Park

The most tragic scene in the movie – Portland Police bring in a bulldozer and clear the camp of some Vets in Forest Park who were part of Will’s fragile support system. The Vets blame Will and Tom for the loss of their home and send them off in anger.

The bulldozer below is from a South Portland “sweep.” This is not a scene from the movie. There are so many sides to the homeless issue, I feel it is important to look at more than one solution. I learned about DISPERSED CAMPING and LEAVE NO TRACE as a researched this movie.

What is Will and Tom and the small encampment of Vets had been allowed to stay in Forest Park. Social services and the police could loosely monitor their existence, perhaps asking for checkin at visits to the VA, and providing trash pickup and other services periodically.  It certainly would not solve the homeless crisis, but it might improve the mental and physical health of a small group of Vets damaged by their war experience.

Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer, Portland Press Herald

Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer, Portland Press Herald

Ted Wheeler, City Hall and Homelessness Crisis

Ted promised to solve the crisis and SURPRISE! SURPRISE! – it is business as usual. Promise no more sweeps and next thing you know there are sweeps.

Ted and his Policy Advisors sit in their offices at City Hall drafting policy while a Volunteer Army of folks like Jeff Rifflard do the real work out in the neighborhoods.

Stop hiding out in your office Ted, take the entire City Hall staff to Cinema 21 to see LEAVE NO TRACE and then go into the neighborhoods getting to know the people you are supposed to be representing.

The End

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