WOODBRIDGE, Va. -- Just 25 miles south of Washington, D.C., right off Interstate 95, sits a tent community. The community is spread out over about 54 acres of land in Woodbridge, Virginia. Dozens of families call the community home.
"I have actually been living out here for four years, I came out here while I was 18," Taleshia Allen told DCW50 as she walked up a wooded trail to her tent.
Allen is 22 years old, she has worked multiple jobs, she is a newlywed, and she is homeless.
"I chose to follow my dreams and unfortunately my dreams were shattered," Allen said.
There are more than 500 homeless people in Prince William County, Virginia, according to Woodbridge HUGS. This tent community in Woodbridge is one of about 57 homeless camps in the county.
“I had several deaths in my life, then I got sick myself, and I was facing death, then I lost my job, my home, my wife, I lost everything,” Dwyane Green said.
Green, one of multiple people in the community who spoke with DCW50 about their journey and how they ended up living in the woods, has lived in the woods for five years.
"It is like the safety net of life was snatched from under me, and that drop is a long drop," he said.
For Allie Carroll, the drop was also long.
"I was a homeowner all my life, lost my home to foreclosure, my second husband quit his job and was unemployed for a couple months and that was the catalyst,” Carroll shared.
For Allen, it has been four years. Four years in the woods, plagued with abuse, all the while going to school.
“I have been in a place where it was hard to say no to a man, because when I said no I was punched in the face, I went to work with black eyes and blue lips, I went to work with marks, I was stabbed in places that people would not even think of,” the 22-year-old said.
For families in the woods there is one struggle, one focus -- survival.
“These are people who work hard and go to school, and we have two goals, we want to keep the homeless alive and we want to house them,” explained Anne Marie Landry with Woodbridge HUGS, an organization working to get approval from the county and independently raise funds to build tiny houses for homeless people in Prince William County.
In the meantime, volunteers donate generators and portable showers, things that make surviving in the woods a little less painful. However, the facts remain, these families do not have running water, do not have toilets, and sleep on the ground.
It is a life they only hope to leave, but figuring out how to do that is just one more struggle the families face.