Public Lands Become Place of Refuge As Affordable Housing Becomes More Scarce

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RVs are parked at the Ramblin Pines Campsite just outside of Baltimore in Woodbine, Maryland on April 23, 2021.  (OLIVIER DOULIERY/AFP via Getty Images)

Public lands have become a refuge for many people who can’t afford housing in the west and who are rejecting certain societal norms that no longer serve them well. For some, becoming vehicle-dwellers and nomads is a way to take back control of their lives. This way of life was portrayed in Chloe Zhao’s award-winning film “Nomadland” which starred Frances McDormand and featured a number of real-life nomads. While vehicle-dwelling and nomadism is not new, the pandemic has exacerbated the existing housing crisis and “push” factors that have made more people choose nomadism. It’s also given rise to community tensions for those who use public lands solely for recreation. We’ll learn more about nomad living experiences and how they’re pushing the bounds of how we’ve traditionally thought about the use of public lands.


Bob Wells , nomad, vehicle-dweller; founder,

Sarah Tory, freelance journalist; her recent story for Bay Nature is titled “Public Lands Have Become a Refuge for People Priced Out of Housing in the West. Local Tensions are Increasing. What Now?”

Nikki Cox, public lands scholar and inclusivity social scientist, U.S. Forest Service