It's a sweltering summer afternoon, and the children are hot and miserable in the tent that's been their home since they lost their house last month.
"You feel about as small as you can as a man, trying to take care of your family and watching your children have to go through something like this," said Troy Renault, 39, a homebuilder and father of five boys who lost his job, then his home, when the recession hit the construction industry.
Home these days is a cluster of tents covered by a blue tarp in a back corner of the Timberline Campground in Lebanon. Surrounding them are the tents, campers and recreational vehicles of other families in similar straits, living full time in campgrounds because they can no longer afford to live anywhere else.
No one knows how many people are living in campgrounds in Middle Tennessee. But visit any area campground and it's easy to pick out the permanent residents among the vacationers.
Look for the decks built on to campers with scrap lumber, and gardens planted next to campfire pits. Look for the air-conditioning units hooked up to tents. Look for the children boarding school buses at the front gates, and parents closing up the camper before they head off to work.
The space between a comfortable life, a nice home and a good job and living out of a campground is closer than most people could imagine. Lose a job, fall suddenly ill or end a marriage, and quickly the bills and mortgage payments start piling up high enough to bury an entire family.
"You get to a point where it's: Do you pay your house payment and not have lights and water and everyone sit with no clean clothes and dirty dishes and everything? Or do you keep the lights and water on and forgo the house payment for the time being?" Renault said. "And that's the way it went, until pretty much we wound up having to leave our home."
Things like this aren't supposed to happen to people like the Renaults, who work hard, go to church, take care of one...