Roughing it: John Samuels pours some tea near the fire pit at the encampment. *Photo by Nicola Muirhead

By most standards, John Samuels has had a rough go of it recently.

The 31-year-old was recently kicked out of a homeless shelter. Everyone was supposed to leave for the day, but Samuels broke back into the shelter through a window to get some of his things. He says he had the flu and wanted to put on more clothes to combat the inclement weather.

Then there’s his legal trouble. There was an outstanding warrant because he couldn’t pay a court fine. The fine was connected to an incident where he beat a guy up. Samuels says the guy owed him money, that “he tried to handle it like a man — I called him three times”, and that the other guy swung first.

Now he is here. He’s been staying at “Hole-in-the-Fence” for a little more than a week. 

He says he likes to write poetry and says Robert Jordan is his favourite author. He used to play basketball.  He is a fan of the Green Bay Packers. He calls the camp’s cat “Chica” even though the encampment’s patriarch, David Melvin Jones, insists its name is “I Don’t Know”.

He dropped out of school when he was 17. He says he tried to be a waiter, but the best gig he could land was kitchen porter. He tries to do odd jobs like painting houses and cleaning up yards, but it’s unclear how steady the work is.

His long-term plans?

“Right now, it’s just one day at a time.”

John Samuels has been staying at the camp for more than a week after getting kicked out of a homeless shelter. *Photo by Nicola Muirhead

There is a tea kettle over the open fire pit. There is a poster of Bob Marley smoking a joint duct-taped to a door; everyone at the camp professes an affinity for marijuana. 

Inexplicably, there is a glass rum flask filled with a green energy drink. Outside the camp, trash litters the ground: bike frames, office chairs, a discarded television. There are piles of brush the camp plans to burn in order to cook. Samuels does not appear particularly stressed. 

It’s an attitude shared by others at the camp. Overnight, someone either stole or let loose two chickens Jones was keeping caged. He is untroubled by that development.

“We’ll get some more,” says Jones.

A nearby businessman, who did not want to be named, said Mr Jones and Co. don’t bother anyone and largely keep to themselves.

“Sometimes, you have to live and let live,” he said.

For now, the camp is Samuels’ home.

“This is comfortable,” he says. 

Welcome: Exterior of the front entrance of the camp, which David Melvin Jones calls “Hole-in-the-Fence”. *Photo by Nicola Muirhead

Ralph is a 35-year-old, who has stayed in the camp for more than a year. He, like Jones, says he helps people move. 

He says he used to work in a hotel on the island. He won’t name which one. He moved abroad for a time and came back to find the rent high and the economy tough. 

He ended up at Hole-in-the-Fence, where his biggest worry appears to be fixing a leak in his room during a rainstorm.

Pausing from his James Patterson novel, Ralph says he can only recall two altercations at the encampment during his time there. He says Jones dealt with those easily enough.

“So far, there hasn’t been any real big problems,” he says.

He laments the stringent rules of the homeless shelter. He tells me marijuana should be legalized and that casino gaming should be passed. That would foster economic growth, he says. He bemoans what he perceives to be a lack of rent control in Bermuda. He’s been priced out of his island, it seems. 

“I like camping,” says Ralph, who declined to give his last name. “So this is fine with me.” 

What’s your size? David Jones, with part of the camp’s communal clothing collection. *Photo by Nicola Muirhead

What do you think?

What does this story tell us about the state of Bermuda in 2014?
Is it a reflection of our struggling economy?
Are there bigger issues to address here or is this simply a case of men on the margins of society essentially choosing to live rough?
Comment below or email feedback to editor Tony McWilliam: