For more hard-pressed Americans, a campsite is home
Camp grounds and tent cities become permanent addresses.
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But campground life, she says, is not for everyone: She offered her homeless son a spot on an inflatable mattress with 400-threadcount sheets, but he left one morning without saying goodbye to couch-surf at the homes of friends.Skip to next paragraph
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“You quickly realize what you don’t need in life,” says Ms. Newton. “This is more home to me than living in the squalor of a motel efficiency [unit] looking at a parking lot all day.”
The sense of community extends even to management at Timberline. Campground manager Tammy Page says she is letting those who can’t afford the monthly rent stay on. Six months ago, she created a food bank that’s now well stocked after a newspaper article brought attention to the Timberline campers’ plight. Near the front desk is a table full of free school supplies, including scissors and pencils. There’s a laundry facility, clean showers, a pool, and a few weeks ago an Elvis impersonator stopped by the “clubhouse” to entertain the kids.
“Yes, it’s hard times, but they’re having fun while it’s going on,” says Ms. Page.
The stimulus bill that Congress approved in February allotted $1.5 billion in Housing and Urban Development grants to help people on the financial edge stay in their apartments or to pay for deposits and last month’s rent for people looking to get into a permanent house. New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles alone could chew through those funds, leaving scraps for the rest of the country, says Heumann.
Laurie Bowen could use $300 of that $1.5 billion right now for a down payment on an apartment. “It’s just not right,” she says, for her daughter to be raising two boys, Glenn and Damiyan, in a rickety trailer with a broken sliding door, and all of them sleeping in the same bed.
Yes, it’s an improvement from when the extended family arrived here last year after being evicted from a rental house, to stay in a five-man tent for four months. A campground caretaker said if they’d pay him $100 for 10 months they could have the “silver bullet” camper he was using for storage, a home they’ve now decorated with lush flowers, tomatoes, and even an apple tree planted in an old pickle barrel.
Their attempt now to slingshot at least their daughter – who works nights at the Dollar General – and her two small boys into an apartment shows how narrow the margins are between a life in the burbs and a permanent camp in the woods.
When summer ends, the plant nursery industry will contract, putting Ms. Bowen’s husband’s new job in jeopardy. Her campground season isn’t described by the earth’s position around the sun, but by the slow turn of a poor national economy.
“Layoff season is coming again,” she says.
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