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23 Feb, 2010 21:23

Unemployed New Yorkers find a new home in the woods

Just an hour outside of New York City, a thriving tent city gives a home to refugees from the economic downturn.

 Traditionally known for its glamour, today even a place like Manhattan has double-digit unemployment. In the Big Apple, homeless shelters have been filling up every night, but outside the city, where homeless shelters are few and far between, the homeless have to look for other options.

Like millions of Americans in the recession, these New Jersey residents have been struggling without homes and jobs. The only difference is that they have become so desperate that they have had to move into the woods.

The homeless community in a forest is just over an hour away from Manhattan, but it feels like a completely different planet.

In the tent city, a barking dog serves as a doorbell and Rudy the rooster is everyone’s alarm clock. He has the homeless up by 5 a.m.

The main – and only – activity of the day is preparing wood for heating food, and making the thin tents warmer.

Nurtured by donated canned soup, Sandra – one of the three women in this mostly male community – has lived in a small dark tent for the last two years.

Sandra says her love life didn't go as planned, and made her homeless.

“I just went through a divorce. And it was a bad divorce. And I ended up here, homeless in here,” Sandra said.

Middle-aged Sandra dreams of a career at a beauty salon.

Rob is the youngest homeless man living in these Jersey woods. At 21, he was among the millions laid off when the economic crisis struck the U.S.

To him, the hardest part about his life is the shame.

"The embarrassment of walking out of here, the cars see you come by and they know who you are. The shame of walking into town and having people give you dirty looks just for the way you’re forced to live,”
Rob said.

The tent community also includes a separate area for Spanish-speaking homeless. They keep to themselves, primarily because of the language barrier. They live several people to a tent but have rigged their tents to let in more sunlight.

No matter how the residents spend their days, they find the nights spent in the woods the hardest.

The homeless are left to fend for themselves, wondering if a better life is ever coming.