Setting Up Camp

For many Coloradans, camping is a rite of summer.  For VOICE vendors Ann and Armand, it became a way of life when they ran out of options.


Ann Bitela. Credit: Jesse Borrell

Tent Life Near Golden

By Ann Bitela

It’s been a decade, and I still remember my time of being homeless and living in a tent! My time in the shelter had been up, and I had nowhere to go. My boyfriend at the time was in the same situation, and he knew of a spot in Golden that would be secluded and out of the way. So I purchased a tent, planted it down on a secluded spot in Golden, and said a prayer that all would be okay and we’d be safe. Thus the journey began.

I had just gotten my emergency food stamps, so that covered our food and water, but we could only buy packaged food or cold cuts to make sandwiches. Transportation was another problem, but we found help with that, and also with hygiene and extra food from a local church.

We settled into our routine at the tent, playing cards, keeping the area clean so animals wouldn’t come into it. Every day I worried about getting found out. We were on private property, and we were afraid that the owners—or worse, police—would show up. 

We used to get woken up by the train whistle late at night and early in the morning. It was really hard on the ears and made it hard to sleep. On top of everything else we had to endure, we started arguing, fighting amongst ourselves because of our lack of jobs and the stressful situation.

There was a creek we went to to bathe and wash clothes so we could look for jobs. The creek was really beautiful. I remember we had gone to that spot one day and had just gotten out of the water when we heard a hissing sound, and turned and saw a snake in the rocks right behind my boyfriend. My boyfriend slowly turned around and walked away, but any closer and he would have been bit. Talk about a close encounter; that was scary!

After months of looking and applying for jobs, we got hired as customer service reps in sales! We were happy and relieved because it was getting so cold and snow was falling, making it impossible to stay any longer in the tent. I moved to a hotel and soon after I got my place. Although it had been rough, I sometimes miss my time spent hidden in that beautiful cluster of trees in Golden, and I’ll never forget it. ■


Armand Casazza. Credit: Jesse Borrell

Armand’s Guide to “Camping”

By Armand Casazza

First, find a well-camouflaged area. Location is what makes a good campsite. Look for a wooded area or an area with tall grass. You’ll want a shady place, but also an area where you can see all the way around you, so no one sneaks up on you.

You want to blend in so even someone a few feet away can’t see you. If possible, your tent needs to be a color that matches the environment around you. 

You’ll need a waterproof tent. You’ll also need clothing that’s waterproof, even shoes. Your sleeping bag should be able to stand up to very cold weather. An air mattress or cot is good to keep you off the cold ground. Tarps are always useful as a backup. You’ll need water jugs, camp dishes, a Coleman camp stove, fuel for the stove.

Some people booby-trap their camps; others carry weapons. I used to booby-trap my camp, but I don’t now because I don’t want to accidentally hurt someone.

You don’t want your stuff to get ripped off, so don’t tell anyone where you are camping. Never leave anything in the open. I find I usually don’t lose stuff if I put it in the trees, the higher the better (limbs and branches are great camouflage). Take all garbage with you. What you bring to camp at night, take out in the morning.

How long should you stay in a spot? Until you get found out! Or until you get bored with it. If it’s a really good spot, stay until you have to run away! 

The best campsite I ever had was on the Kim Williams trail in Missoula, Montana. There was a river close by, and lots of shade. It was an awesome spot, until one of my friends killed a man on the trail. He ruined it for everyone; after that, they ran everyone out. [Editor’s note: the man Armand knew was then-21-year-old Kenneth Damien Hickman. He plead guilty to killing fellow transient Berry “Jack” Gilbert in April 2010.]

It can be dangerous to stay in a camp, but often there’s nowhere else to go. I feel safer outside than I do in a shelter most of the time. I feel less stressed outside and I sleep better. It seems no matter where I go, I’m never 100 percent safe. But that’s life. ■