WILKES-BARRE – Homeless settlement camps have been erected throughout the Kirby Park Natural Area.
Some camps are easily seen from the Market Street Bridge and the levee in Kirby Park, while others are hidden behind mammoth trees and shrubs.
Piles of tents, soggy clothes and shoes, backpacks, empty plastic food containers, coolers and canned goods litter the 10 camps that were found scattered in the muddy flood plain between the Susquehanna River and the levee.
Most are within 400 yards of the bridge, while one camp is camouflaged atop a hill near the Wilkes-Barre Railroad Connecting Bridge. Other camps were found scattered in the dense woods closer to U.S. Route 11 in Edwardsville.
In one camp near the bridge along the river shore and with the city skyline in the distance, a man who identified himself as Allen held a shovel. Allen did not want to provide his last name because he is searching for a job.
He said he lived in a tent with Danny, whom he met at the St. Vincent de Paul Kitchen in Wilkes-Barre, for three weeks in October. Danny left in early November when a friend took him in.
Allen said he was digging for a plastic soda bottle containing a watch and a ring he buried to keep it hidden from other homeless people.
I've had that watch since my father died 10 years ago, Allen said. I forgot to take it when I left this hell hole.
Allen, 42, said he became homeless shortly after he was laid off from a job in the Crestwood Industrial Park in Mountain Top in June. He was one of seven tenants evicted from an apartment building in Glen Lyon when the building had been foreclosed in July.
Allen said he never filed for unemployment compensation when he was laid off, leaving him with no money.
He said he never had trouble finding food to eat and filled a bottle with fresh water utilizing restrooms at fast food restaurants and convenience stores.
In the same camp Allen called home for three weeks, there was a Bible resting against a cooler, several tents that are torn and two empty liquor bottles mixed with debris.
Deeper in the woods is the biggest camp with a large fire pit surrounded by logs used for sitting. Several tents were on the ground and folded, likely to keep hidden from view during the day. Tent poles were found in nearby shrubs.
There is strong evidence people are staying in the largest camp. There are markings in the mud from shoes and a bicycle and the fire pit had fresh fire-charred branches. Fallen leaves were missing from the pit two days after it was first searched by a reporter last week.
Tents and coolers were moved and there were more empty canned goods of creamed corn.
Spoons and forks are in sandwich bags, a celery stalk in a shopping bag hung from a tree branch, and a deck of playing cards were kept dry in a closed cooler.
An empty prescription bottle for Motrin, which was found mixed with other debris at the largest camp, was filled on Oct. 16 at a Kingston pharmacy. A search of court records of the name on the prescription returned several drug and burglary related convictions.
Each camp is nestled in a group of large trees and shrubs and accessible by the same paths joggers and hikers use.
Several joggers interviewed on top of the levee said they have had no problems with the homeless people.
While the camps are littered with debris and garbage, the paths are clear of empty cans and food containers.
The nature area of Kirby Park was home to the Kirby Park Zoo in the 1920s.