- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 1, 2009

LEBANON, Tenn. | Terry Lee Ballard holds a sign when he goes looking for work in front of hardware stores. It reads: “No job. No food. Almost homeless.”

He’s almost homeless because he lives at a campground in a tent with a roommate, two cats and a dog.

Drive through Timberline Campground about 30 miles west of Nashville and it’s difficult to see the difference between Mr. Ballard’s campsite and some of his vacationing neighbors, but a closer look reveals he and others aren’t here by choice.

The campground welcomes people who have lost their homes but not their desire to keep their families together, out of homeless shelters and off the streets.

Mr. Ballard, who at 52 has worked as a songwriter and construction worker, tries to make the best of his situation. Outside a mesh window of his tent, an electric air conditioner blows a cool breeze into the nylon dome, which can heat up like a greenhouse under the sun. Wooden pallets covered by carpet scraps compose the floor of the tent keeping his bed, coffee maker, electric two-burner unit and toaster oven off the sometimes soggy ground.

“The cool thing is, it’s a place to live and I don’t feel homeless as long as I have this,” said Mr. Ballard, who is behind on campground rent payments. “But we’re about to lose this.”

Neil Donovan, executive director of the National Coalition for the Homeless, said many people like Mr. Ballard move to campgrounds when they find themselves without permanent housing.

Campgrounds offer more independence than homeless shelters, which often have strict rules, he said. And they allow families to stay together, while most shelters are segregated by gender.

Some campgrounds frown upon being seen as this type of host.

Timberline is different.

Manager Tammy Page knows the number of people moving here for economic reasons has increased over the past year. Rent is $325 a month for a site big enough to hold a camper and picnic table. The rate includes water and electricity plus laundry facilities, showers and access to a pool.

Miss Page maintains a small food bank in the office and has school supplies to give away to children. Donated clothes are kept in the laundry room for needy campers.

Social workers and volunteers from local charities frequent the site, so much so that a little girl who saw a reporter interview her mother asked, “Momma, is that our case worker?”

Tennessee’s unemployment rate increased to 10.7 percent in July, in part because of the loss of construction and manufacturing jobs. The state consistently ranks high in bankruptcies, and was eighth nationally in mortgage delinquencies at the end of the second quarter, according to numbers provided by the Mortgage Bankers Association.

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