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Ashley Martin, Forum Communications, Published June 06 2012

Man camping on Dickinson river bank: If trash can stay, why can't I?

DICKINSON, N.D. - With little more than clothing and his guitar, Richard Harrington came to Dickinson last week looking for work.

After staying a couple of nights in a local hotel, Harrington, 58, checked out and pitched a tent. Even though he is being kicked out of his current spot, he plans to live beside the Heart River for as long as he can.

“I like it,” Harrington said. “It helps me sleep. There’s a soothing effect to it and there’s all kinds of animal life.”

He understands why the Dickinson Police Department has asked him to leave, and he expects to continue getting kicked out as he moves along the river.

“I’m not getting knocked out of this part of the country,” Harrington said.

He added authorities have been nice to him.

In Dickinson, camping is only permitted in designated campgrounds, DPD Capt. David Wilkie said.

“That doesn’t mean you can’t set a tent up in your own backyard and sleep there, but this is not that situation,” he said. “We don’t want transients sleeping all over the place. That’s not a very nice way to say it, but along with transient living comes garbage and waste.”

Harrington said there was garbage in the area before he got there and it continues to litter the riverbank.

“If junk out here can lay around and they’re not going to clean that out, then why kick me out?” he said.

Harrington used to be in the logging industry, but said business dwindled.

“It’s been three years since I’ve had a steady job,” he said. “The piggy bank started running dry.”

Rather than ask for assistance from family or the government, Harrington packed up and headed to Dickinson.

“I don’t want anybody supporting me, period,” he said. “When I go out of this world, I want to leave more than I took and I’m not going to be that guy if I’m asking you to take care of me.”

Joe Wanner, chairman of the Southwest Homeless Coalition, said Harrington’s is not an uncommon story in the area, due to increased housing costs and population.

“For them, they’re going to make this camping excursion their summertime housing and a lot of it is for finances,” he said. “They came here to make money and that’s a way for them to save it.”

Wanner said the situation is making it harder to document homeless people.

“We’re getting such a variation in what homeless is, so we’re having a hard time grabbing a number,” he said. “Are they necessarily homeless? Sometimes they’re not. Sometimes it’s a choice.”

He may consider an affordable house or mobile home, but Harrington refuses to live in an apartment or hotel no matter the cost.

“If I get into an apartment, guess what? People are going to complain when I get up at 3:30 or 4 in the morning and do this,” he said as he played harmonica and strummed his guitar. “If you were my next door neighbor, you’d be pounding at the door saying, ‘My baby needs to get some sleep.’”

Harrington said local authorities told him not to build open fires.

“I’ll just eat fresh fruits, vegetables and sandwiches,” he said. “I don’t have to cook.”

He makes use of the river and public facilities to keep clean and shaven.

Harrington expects winter to be cold, but wants to continue camping through it.

“I’ll grab, if I have to, some sandbags and build a bunker,” he said with a smile. “This part of the world did not get made … by people that weren’t resourceful.”