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Archive for Thursday, December 27, 2012

For some, campground is home, even in winter

Clinton Park homes range from tents to deluxe campers

Gene and Diane Wallace are living in their recreational vehicle at Campground 3 at Clinton State Park with their two cats. Unlike some of the permanent residents at the campsite, the Wallaces — who lived in Lawrence before becoming full-time RV residents in August 2011 — were not prepared to weather the winter in their vehicle, below, but found themselves stuck after transmission repairs and a hotel stay set them back financially.

Gene and Diane Wallace are living in their recreational vehicle at Campground 3 at Clinton State Park with their two cats. Unlike some of the permanent residents at the campsite, the Wallaces — who lived in Lawrence before becoming full-time RV residents in August 2011 — were not prepared to weather the winter in their vehicle, below, but found themselves stuck after transmission repairs and a hotel stay set them back financially.

December 27, 2012

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The boats are out of the water at Clinton State Park. Restrooms are locked up for the winter, water has been turned off and, with freezing temperatures and the season’s first snow blanketing the ground, the park’s campgrounds are empty.

Except Campground 3. A couple dozen people make their homes there, weathering the elements. Some live there permanently, in well-equipped campers. For others, the campsite is a cold, squalid last resort before homelessness.

•••

Campground 3 at Clinton State Park is home to more than a dozen year-round residents, who must haul in their own water in the wintertime because campsite water sources are shut off. Some of the residents want to be there and have well-equipped RVs or campers. For others, including a few who stay in tents, it's a last resort to being homeless.

Campground 3 at Clinton State Park is home to more than a dozen year-round residents, who must haul in their own water in the wintertime because campsite water sources are shut off. Some of the residents want to be there and have well-equipped RVs or campers. For others, including a few who stay in tents, it's a last resort to being homeless.

With slabs of Styrofoam covering the vents, light streaming through the windows and a couple of tiny space heaters, Gene and Diane Wallace’s recreational-vehicle home stays more or less warm enough, at least on a sunny day.

The couple lived in Lawrence before leaving their apartment to become full-time RV residents in August 2011. Gene was retired and Diane’s anxiety disorder had become bad enough that she said she was unable to work.

“We wanted less stress,” Diane said, laughing because of the irony of the situation they’re in now.

The couple, traveling with their two cats, had visited Gene’s sister in North Carolina, then headed for Michigan’s upper peninsula to see Diane’s hometown. They set off for Kansas next to update their vehicle’s registration.

Being on a fixed income — Gene gets Social Security and makes a little money from selling things on zazzle.com; Diane makes a bit writing on squidoo.com — their budget and an RV that gets 5 to 7 miles per gallon allowed them to travel no more than 300 miles a month, Gene said.

That wasn’t fast enough to outrun winter.

When the transmission went out on their 1997 Four Winds XL a couple weeks ago, they had it towed into Lawrence, then had to pay for close to a week at a motel while they waited for it to be fixed.

They weren’t financially prepared for the setbacks. Gene said he had to take out a loan to cover the repairs, and they seem to slip further behind.

They don’t have enough money to leave, or to winterize their RV, which, among other problems, has uninsulated water tanks. Even if they wanted to give up RV life, they don’t have money to get back into an apartment.

“We’ve always lived on the edge,” Gene said. “We always thought that we would be able to improve our income ...

“We knew we were taking a chance,” he said. “We’re close to homelessness.”

•••

Permanent residents of Campground 3 at Clinton State Park take measures to insulate trailers from the winter temperatures, such as adding skirting around the base like this one. Some trailers are better equipped than others, and a few less fortuante residents stay in tents or vans.

Permanent residents of Campground 3 at Clinton State Park take measures to insulate trailers from the winter temperatures, such as adding skirting around the base like this one. Some trailers are better equipped than others, and a few less fortuante residents stay in tents or vans.

Janet Foster’s trailer home at Clinton Park, in contrast, has “all the amenities,” as she puts it.

“I love it,” said Foster, who’s entering her fourth winter at Campground 3. “I feel like I live in a gated community. There’s only one way in and one way out, we’ve got our own security.”

Foster lives with her husband and their two dogs, Dusty and Chewy, who even have a tiny fenced-in yard to roam in. Her trailer has plywood skirting around the base to help insulate it, propane heat and running water, though in the wintertime — when campsite water hookups and all but one of the shower houses are shut down — she has to fill up tanks of water at the park dump station then drive them back to hook them up to her home.

It’s not her favorite thing, she said, but it’s not that big of a deal.

“The only thing that sucks about winter is you don’t get to go out as much,” Foster said. “But in the summertime you’re hardly inside.”

Foster said she lived at the lake years ago, moved to town to raise her family, then moved back for the neighborhood’s peace, quiet and wildlife. She works in the park office.

Several of Foster’s neighbors have lived at the park longer than she has. Many work during the day and come home to Campground 3 at night. Some also do chores at the campsite — cleaning bathrooms or mowing — in exchange for part of their camping fees.

•••

With the daytime temperature in the mid-20s, Gene Wallace walks around his RV at Campground 3 at Clinton State Park. Unlike some of the permanent residents at the campsite, Wallace, his wife and their two cats — who lived in Lawrence before becoming full-time RV residents in August 2011 — were not prepared to weather the winter in their vehicle but found themselves stuck after transmission repairs and a hotel stay set them behind financially.

With the daytime temperature in the mid-20s, Gene Wallace walks around his RV at Campground 3 at Clinton State Park. Unlike some of the permanent residents at the campsite, Wallace, his wife and their two cats — who lived in Lawrence before becoming full-time RV residents in August 2011 — were not prepared to weather the winter in their vehicle but found themselves stuck after transmission repairs and a hotel stay set them behind financially.

Looking for a way out

Gene and Diane Wallace have turned to technology in hopes of raising money to escape their current home at Clinton State Park for a warmer climate.

The couple fell behind financially after the transmission on their RV went out. They’re hooked up to electricity at the park’s year-round Campground 3, but their RV isn’t winterized. They don’t have the money to upgrade it, to drive farther south or go back to apartment living even if they wanted to.

“We didn’t want to meet winter in Lawrence,” Gene Wallace said.

In hopes of getting help, the Wallaces set up a project on the crowd-funding website, indiegogo.com.

They’ve raised about $300 of their $500 goal for “survival money,” but Gene Wallace said he expects it will take more for them to get back on their feet and back on the road.

A few relatives and friends have contributed a little, he said, but they don’t have the means to do more. The rest of the money has come from strangers.

“They’re not rich, either,” Diane Wallace said. “Yet they’re helping us out.”

Find the Wallaces’ project online at indi egogo.com/projects/302219.

Some less-permanent Campground 3 residents live in tents or vans. These are the types of residents Lawrence Community Shelter employees hear about.

In the past week, as the cold set in, the downtown homeless shelter has filled up at night and turned people away, shelter director Loring Henderson said. But that’s not why most of the Campground 3 residents seek out spots at Clinton Park.

“People choose it because it’s a little more freedom than coming to a shelter where there are rules,” Henderson said. “That’s the difference, I think, that drives them. They want their independence as much as possible.”

Shelter case manager Brian Blevins said he’s suggested that some families move to the lake. In other cases, he’s “rescued” people, such as a woman and four children, living in tents, who were stranded with no way to get to town for food when the man of the family took off.

Lake living allows some families to save up money to move into an apartment, Blevins said. “I’ve seen a lot of really smart moves, and I’ve seen a lot of people just rationalize, ‘This is all I can do,’” he said. “You’ve got both ends of the spectrum.”

Blevins said there are similar neighborhoods at other state lakes. Especially in this economy, he said, the unconventional housing choice doesn’t surprise him.

If authorities ever hear of children in danger — such as the couple Blevins recalled leaving the shelter to camp at the lake in sub-freezing temperatures with a newborn — they can contact the Kansas Department for Children and Families to intervene.

But adults, Blevins said, prepared for the elements or not, mentally ill or not, can make their home wherever the law allows, and for residents who pay their campsite fees that includes Clinton State Park.

“Adults ... have the freedom to go out there and freeze to death, and that bites,” Blevins said. “It’s very frustrating for us.”

Comments

LadyJ 1 year, 10 months ago

Just so you know, the link doesn't work. It puts a space after indi

Sara Shepherd 1 year, 10 months ago

A spacing glitch in the online version, fixed now. Thanks for the head's up!

GWallace 1 year, 10 months ago

Our Indiegogo Project is at: http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/302219/x/1989213 Thank You Sara Shepherd for visiting us and for reporting our story. And, Thank You to the people who have already responded.

GWallace 1 year, 10 months ago

Due to the help of this article, we have just reached our Indiegogo goal of $500.00. Thank You! For those who are wishing to contribute, the Goal of $500 is not a maximum limit. Once, again, Thank You contributors, Sara Shepherd, the Lawrence Journal World and those who shared our Indiegogo.com Project with friends on-line.

Jim Russo 1 year, 10 months ago

The article indicates they make what little money they can by writing and selling things on the Internet. Selling their computers would seem to be akin to a carpenter selling his tools.

Pieere 1 year, 10 months ago

I know how the Wallaces' feel and how some of the others get along without traditional homes to go to. I don't know what the terminology would be for the "hidden or ignored population" of the USA. However I do realize with the "recession", I believe started by the large corporation CEO's, which put the US in the dire-straits it is in presently. The 7.7% unemployment rate reported by the Government in November saved the President his office, however unless he gets more political power to become more agreeable with his agendas he will struggle to the end of his term. The underlying truth of the real unemployment, people who are not counted because they don't qualify for benefits, have stopped looking for work is actually about double according to an article written in the December issue of the AARP magazine. This country would not be in this "Fiscal Cliff B.S." if our largest corporation would have stayed in this country, if the CEO's were held responsible for their actions, and the millionaires would start paying their share of income taxes instead of the IRS allowing them so many deductions to write it off. OH: I believe I will PO some people here. I've physically worked my a** off since I worked for the farm when I was 14, delivered newspaper, 192 customers by bike or sled until I turned 18. Served my 3 yrs of service, worked for new and used car dealers, a school bus mechanic, and various other jobs because I have Attention Deficit Disorder, which used to be known as Hyper-activity. March 30th, 2012 I had a STEMI which is the severest form of Heart attacks. I was implanted with 3 stents, which caused the loss of my 3 seasonal jobs. I was refused unemployment benefits, signed up for SSI and SSDI, no response from them. I do have food and a place to stay until the end of January, thanks to some Good Samaritans. Tried to get the VA Hospital to do an ultrasound and do the heart rehab therapy, was put on a waiting list. The facility to assist veterans wanted to put me in a group home with addicts and mentally challenged people. I would not have been allowed to leave the building. Thanks but no thanks to them. You can't question the system as it's their way. I will return back to doing seasonal work this March and can receive my early SS (which by the way has been earned) then will continue to work until they pile dirt on my dead body.

Leslie Swearingen 1 year, 10 months ago

There are some things that you should not be put on a waiting list for. It is horrible what has happened to you. I hope and pray that somehow your situation gets better. With SSI and SSDI you just have to hang in there and keep the process open, don't give up. The facility that wanted to put you in a home and not let you leave should not be allowed in the US. Those people are preying on the vulnerable and should be stopped.

Don't worry about those who are going to be critical of your grammar or style. The message is important and thank you for bringing it to us.

gccs14r 1 year, 10 months ago

Paragraphs are a good thing, and they're free.

JackMcKee 1 year, 10 months ago

The LJW should stick to reporting actual news. These kinds of stories are, well, just depressing. Living in a van down by the river isn't really something I'd call interesting.

Stuart Evans 1 year, 10 months ago

I'm glad that they had a story on this; I had no idea that you could do such a thing. I was under the impression that you had to move every two weeks when staying on government land; something about homesteading laws.

Bob Forer 1 year, 10 months ago

Avoidance is usually not a good coping mechanism, Jack.

Leslie Swearingen 1 year, 10 months ago

According to the article they are living in a campground near Clinton Lake, the one that is open year round to campers, so as long as they pay the fee they can stay there. We can worry about homesteading when they start plowing up the ground.

Smarmy_Schoolmarm 1 year, 10 months ago

It's life for a lot of people though, so for some of us, it is interesting. Glad to see you've reached your goal and surpassed it Wallace family!

Haiku_Cuckoo 1 year, 10 months ago

Now that the goal has been reached, what's the plan to prevent this type of financial bind from happening again? With all due respect, sitting in a camper all day waiting for money to arrive will only lead to a repeat of this situation. Even a part time job somewhere would help with expenses. What's the plan?

Lawrence Morgan 1 year, 10 months ago

Real journalism reports all kinds of things - not just political matters. I think this is a great article. It helps to present people's personal situations. Whether you like it or not, Jack McKee, journalism involves the arts, social studies, the past, history, all kinds of things which can be learned from.

And Pierre, thanks very much for sharing your information. You've been through a lot, and I identify with it. I myself had a heart attack and had a stent put in, but it failed and had to be removed.

You do need to work on paragraphs - we all need to work on improving our lives in various ways - but your message is there.

And bigtoe's comments would destroy their way of living. People do the best they can with what they have. Often much good eventually comes from sharing this information. I am happy that they have this technology.

Thank you, Sara Shepherd, for this excellent and thorough article!

Toni Brou 1 year, 10 months ago

SO glad you reached your goal. Wallaces, please don't let some of the negative comments or posts here get you down. Thanks for this story, Ms. Shepherd.

bevy 1 year, 10 months ago

In some posters' comments above, I hear the echoes of Ebenezer Scrooge: "Are there no prisons? Are there no poor houses?"

I wish you the best of luck with your quest to find warmer quarters, and a more peaceful life.

1julie1 1 year, 10 months ago

It looks like a very cold place to be even in the best of RV circumstances and I can't imagine someone living there in a tent at this time of year. The story doesn't mention what the fee is to park overnight in the park in the winter. Is it less than in the summer and, if so, what's the difference? Though Clinton Lake is close by we seldom drive around in the park at any time of the year because of the daily fee to get in. Is that waived if you are camping or if it is in the winter when services are evidently reduced?

Coles_Law 1 year, 10 months ago

You can get an annual entrance permit for about $20. They may have annual camping permits too.

soundandfury 1 year, 10 months ago

Mr. Blevins,

I was with you till you started lamenting that “Adults ... have the freedom to go out there and freeze to death, and that bites. It’s very frustrating for us.” The key words here are "adults" and "freedom." As an adult, I'll take my chances freezing to death any day of the week, if the alternative is a nanny state that oversees my every choice to make sure I haven't put myself at risk. If someone is mentally ill and a risk to themselves, the courts can intervene, but simply choosing to sleep in freezing weather, even subzero weather, does not make you a threat to yourself. I've done this very thing on many an occasion and am still here to write about it, with all fingers and toes intact. People are tougher than they know, and certainly tougher than you give them credit.

Jeremiah Jefferson 1 year, 10 months ago

I guess its better than living in a van down by the river

Jeremiah Jefferson 1 year, 10 months ago

3.Camping is allowed only in designated areas and is subject to restrictions as posted. All campers and camping units are limited to a stay of not more than 14 consecutive days although a 14-day extension may be obtained with written permission from the park manager. A five-day absence is required before returning to the park to camp again. Any property left unused or unoccupied for 48 hours is subject to removal.

http://www.kdwpt.state.ks.us/news/State-Parks/Park-Regulations

Just sayin

juma 1 year, 10 months ago

do they want to sell the motorhome? i am looking for something for the summer.

PEACELOVEANDLAWRENCE 1 year, 10 months ago

I hope nothing but the best of luck for this couple! Just wondering what are the fees to stay at the camp grounds at Clinton? I looked on the web site but it didn't give the cost.

countrygirl 1 year, 10 months ago

The staff at the state park office at Clinton are fantastic and I'm glad to hear they're working with those who need a place to stay. For those of you associated with youth groups who like to camp, they offer free camping in exchange for some clean up duties. With all the cuts in funding I think local scout troops are about the only way they can get trash picked up.

GWallace 1 year, 10 months ago

We have raised $1092 for our goal of $500 at the Indiegogo Project. This is rather overwhelming. Our thanks and appreciation go out to Sara Shepherd, the LJWorld, and all of the wonderful contributors Yes, Clinton State Park is not a place to spend three weeks during the Winter. There are two campgrounds open. Campground 3, with a heated shower, a dump site and one running water faucet; and Campground 1 with only electric power, no restrooms or water. Campers staying more that 14 days are allowed to "flip" between campsites, if you don't have long term permission. Most "flippers" stay 14 days at each campground. There is a five day period where campers must leave the campground they were in after 14 days, then they may return for another 14 days. The cost is , with tax, $115 for the year vehicle pass and then $19.50 per day for camping and utilities, during the off-season. It is not cheap, but is the Only RV camping available in the Lawrence area, with the exception of KOA Jellystone which is very expensive. Yes, we have considered ending this lifestyle, but, it is almost impossible to sell an old motorhome with our loan and in it's condition. Thank You again. Diane and Gene Wallace

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