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For more hard-pressed Americans, a campsite is home

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With the jobless rate at a 30-year high and a foreclosure wave still sweeping the nation, wait lists for shelters are expanding and laid-off Americans are looking for other options. The rise in long-term tenting and camping is a sign that people’s options are running out, says Nan Roman, president of NAEH.

“When people have choices, they don’t [move] into tent cities,” says Ms. Roman. “They’re very understandably looking for hope and they’re seeking virtue in it, but I think we can do better to help people achieve their potential than tents.”

But in places like Sacramento and Champaign, Ill., that’s exactly the debate. In March, Sac­ra­mento closed a large tent city, even as officials in the Tampa-St. Petersburg area face a proposal to set aside city land for a major homeless tenting area. A group in Champaign is lobbying the city to put up a 60-tent facility. In early August, advocates fought in court to keep open two tent cities – Camp Runamuck II and Hope City – in Rhode Island, but their effort failed. Campers now have an early September deadline to pull up stakes. States are also responding. Alabama recently opened its two largest state campgrounds to permanent campers, partly in response to the poor economy.

While many seem to find romance and even liberation in paring life down to the barest necessities, the prospect of muddy campgrounds, inclement weather, and sparse toilet facilities is, in fact, disheartening, especially to families who are enduring it against their will, says Mr. Heumann.

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