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Wednesday, April 7, 2010 as of 11:14 AM ET

Economy

Brooks Blanton

Atlanta, GA

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Homeless Families Flock to Campgrounds

July 15, 2009 - 2:41 PM | by: Brooks Blanton

Troy Renault remembers the shocking statistic he heard earlier this year while watching the news.  By the end of 2009, more than a million children will be homeless because of the recession, foreclosure crisis and skyrocketing unemployment rate.

“I was like how could that happen?  In this country, how can that happen,”  Renault pondered that fact while sitting at a picnic table on a hot Tennessee afternoon.  “And little did I think that my children would be part of the statistic.”

He works in construction, helping build the suburban Nashville neighborhood that he, his wife Tammy and their four sons called home in until six weeks ago.  When the housing industry collapsed, Troy was laid off and started his own handyman business.  But even on his own, work was hard to find.  The family struggled to make their bills.

“Do I keep the lights and water on so that we can at least get clean, wash clothes and do dishes?  Or do we pay the rent and sit in the darkness?”

The lack of work finally caught up with the Renault family and they eventually lost their home.  With nowhere to go, they packed their belongings and moved to Space 34 at the Timberline Campground in Lebanon, Tennessee.  They now live in two tents, joined together to make up a tiny living room complete with a lamp and TV and three small rooms for the family of six to sleep.  Their kitchen is a grill, stacks of plastic containers of food and a line of coolers just outside the tent.  Running water, showers and toilets are a few steps away in a public restroom intended for campers to use on long weekends, vacations and holidays.

But the Renaults are not alone.  Campgrounds all over the country are seeing an alarming number of people pulling up with tents, campers and RV’s with nowhere else to go.  What once was a symbol of American fun in the sun has now become an affordable refuge for those with no place to live.

“You want to start crying.  You look at your young children and think what am I going to do here?”

Despite having to rough it with four kids ages 2 to 17 years old, Tammy and Troy Renault try to focus on what they are lucky to have instead of what they lost.

“What’s really important is loving one another, looking out for your neighbors, looking out for people.  There’s simple little things that you can do everyday to make a difference in someone’s life.”

It’s an attitude the Renault’s live by at Timberline.  They give away their own comfort items or lend a helping hand to those they feel are in more need.  Even though they sweat out the hot days and humid nights in their tents, they refused to keep a donated air conditioner.  Instead they gave it to Kathy Newton, a vietnam veteran who is battling cancer and lives in a tent just two spaces down from their makeshift home.  Troy also gave a refrigerator to a couple at a neighboring campsite who couldn’t afford to replace one that broke down and he recently helped an another woman by fixing the plumbing in her tiny camper, free of charge.

“I think it’s the little things that we do for each other that make a big difference in the other persons life, and in return it comes back to you.”

Recent media coverage of their situation has brought in a flood of donated food, clothing and job offers.  They see it as a blessing and hope to be in an apartment in a few weeks if the job offers pan out.  But with the reality that there are so many more on the verge of being forced out of their homes and into campgrounds, the Renault’s hope those who see their story will be thankful for all they have and never hesitate to help someone who’s need might be more serious.

“Look in your own neighborhood.  See who might have a need right there.  Check to see that you don’t have a neighbor that isn’t going through some depression, having a hard time…on the verge of losing their job.”

Photo Gallery
The Renault Family: Sebastian, Troy, Z, Ty, Tammy and Slade
Image 1 of 5
  • The Renault Family:  Sebastian, Troy, Z, Ty, Tammy and Slade
  • Tammy Renault Cooks the Family Dinner on a Grill Which is Now Her Kitchen
  • The Bad Economy has Forced Many to Call Timberline Campground in Lebanon, Tennessee Home
  • Kathy Newton, a Vietnam Vet who also has Cancer, has Been Living at Timberline Since April
  • Terry Ballard Looks for Work Every Day in Lebanon, TN.  He Usually Holds a Sign That Reads
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