Third in a series
By Deb Murphy
“I never thought of myself as homeless until somebody told me,” said Steve Seats, recuperating at his Horton Creek camp site from a nasty rock climbing accident illustrated by x-rays of multiple foot fractures.
Seats made a decision that a lot of us have toyed with: do we opt for a life of experiences or a mortgage. Seats went for the experiences. “My dad asked me ‘what’s wrong with you?’ I said, ‘remember all those books you made me read, the “New Testament,” “Walden Pond.” You forgot to tell me I wasn’t supposed to take that stuff seriously.”
Seats appreciates the focus on providing housing, but said that’s not always the main source of the problem. “For me and people I know, it’s the Bureau of Land Management, Forest Service; it’s just finding a place to be.”
Seats has done it all: he lived in a cardboard box under a bridge as a teenager, got a job at a theater and learned the art of rigging. That got him jobs touring with rock bands and doing stage productions.
He played chess with Keith Richards.
Between tours he’d head for the Sierra. For a spell, he adapted his rigging skills as a tree cutter in Wyoming. He wrote for the climbing media. Then he hit 50 and realized “I had more behind me than in front of me.” He sold his tree cutting business and moved to the Eastern Sierra five years ago.
He found places to be, with the exception of two months out of the year.
Horton Creek closes for deer migration from early October to May. Semi-permanent campers can pay $300 for the season or opt for $100 a month.
The Pit opens in October and shuts down in spring, “it’s too freakin’ hot,” Seats said.
But there’s a 60-day limit. “Me and people I know have been chased out of the Pit for exceeding the 60-day limit when the campground was only 15% full.”
The limit also sends campers deeper into the Tablelands. For two of the four month vacuum, Seats hitches up his camper and heads for other BLM campsites where he can stay for 14 days, leave for 14 and come back for another 14 days. Forests Service campsites have a 30-days limit.
“The other two months you’re being chased around. They say you can stay at Browns’ Town but they’re not open in winter and it costs $35 a night.”
Would a “homeless” campground help? “If it were like this (Horton), that would be great. Being reasonably close to town is important; reasonably green is important.”
Many in Seats technically homeless community have everything but a permanent roof over their heads. They’re travelers who work at local hospitals, writers, photographers, climbers on an extended road trip.
Seats tells of a couple writing for the tourism media about the Eastern Sierra. They went past the campsite limit and got kicked out. “They probably wrote about getting kicked out of Bishop,” he said.
“Homelessness is such a problem in this country. (IMACA’s Larry) Emerson says the rules aren’t working anymore. It’s time to start thinking outside the box Government isn’t going to solve the problems. We have to be creative. I think half the problem is public opinion. The other half is bureaucratic nonsense.”