At Linebaugh Public Library in Murfreesboro, a shaggy, redheaded man sits quietly in the computer lab. He’s contemplating the next step in his journey of homelessness.
“Guess my next option is Hippie Hill,” says Timothy.
Hippie Hill is a legal homeless community in Christiana, Tenn. About 30 people currently reside on this hill. The leader of this group, Hippie, has set rules in place and accepts any newcomers. Although the community on Hippie Hill is accepting, if a new person causes trouble, he or she could be kicked out immediately.
Timothy has a naturally free spirit and seems like he will fit in well with the community on Hippie Hill. I ask him how he plans to get there. Timothy tells me he plans to bike the 16 miles with all his stuff, including his large tent.
“Want me to help you take your camp there today?” I ask.
“Can you?” Timothy asks excitedly. “I thought today would be a boring day. . . . But every day is an adventure with me!”
Timothy’s favorite show is Adventure Time, so of course he likes to explore. His favorite character in the show is named Finn. He always talks about how cool it would be to have a hat with Finn on it.
As a pit stop before Hippie Hill, we make our way to the Journey Home for lunch. While writing homeless profiles, I prefer to act the part; I dress down and do as the homeless do, so I am eating lunch at the Journey Home with Timothy.
Today we are having beef stroganoff over rice, pink peaches, salad and a heart-shaped dessert (in celebration of Valentine’s Day). Upon our entry, a surprisingly friendly staff hands each of us a gift. The gifts are hand-written valentines. Timothy’s says, “I love you soooooo much!” and mine says, “Happy Valentine’s Day!”
After volunteers escort us to our seats, Timothy and I enjoy a nice lunch together. And by “we enjoy a nice lunch together,” I mean I enjoy a nice meal by myself. Timothy ate so fast I am now eating alone five minutes into the meal. While I eat, he tells me about how he became homeless.
Timothy is originally from Washington, Penn., which is just outside of Pittsburgh. Timothy didn’t get along with his father while he was growing up. Ever since his father’s death three years ago, he hasn’t seen his brother or two sisters.
He spent his early years (13–19) in juvenile detention centers for assault and typical teenage rebellion. However, Timothy did receive his GED when he turned 16. Soon after he turned 20, he burned down his family’s house while they weren’t home because of the childhood memories. That was the first time Timothy went to jail. He recalls burning down the house because he didn’t like his childhood and everything about the house reminded him of his past.
Sometimes, Timothy talks and acts like a child, usually when he is nervous or anxious. He says he has a childlike spirit. When his father died of a heart attack, Timothy started smoking cigarettes again, which he isn’t proud of. He prides himself on being clean of drugs and alcohol addictions now.
Although he is free of alcohol and drug addiction at the moment, a year ago Timothy lived in Chicago and got involved with a bad crowd. An acquaintance of Timothy’s stabbed him on the cheek, very close to his eye. He now has a scar just below his right eye.
“He tried to gouge my eye out over drugs,” says Timothy, “The guy who did it used [drugs] and sold to get high. He said I owed him money [and] then just stabbed me.”
Timothy ended up in Murfreesboro by riding his bicycle from Fort Wayne, Indiana. Before he rode his bike for travel, Timothy voyaged by what he calls “train hopping.” This is a process of riding train cars until he gets to a destination, which in Timothy’s case was Chicago. He says it’s a scary but fun experience.
“The fun part is the wind through your hair,” says Timothy with a smile. “Couple days without food and water, though, you start to wonder what’s gonna happen next.”
Eventually, I finish eating and we exit the Journey Home the way we entered. Timothy and I walk the short distance to my lime green 2002 VW bug as he lights up a smoke. I lean against my chilly car while we chat. The cigarette dwindles away.
“You’re the first person to ever visit my camp,” says Timothy. It’s a pretty special feeling to know a homeless man trusts only you with the key to his house.
We hop into my car and he directs me to his camp. He says he purposefully makes his campground difficult to get to so no one will make a point to go to his location. He succeeded, because this is quite the journey into the woods, one that I would never attempt again. While we are hiking, Timothy randomly giggles.
“What?” I ask curiously.
“It’s funny to see a diva like you going through the woods,” Timothy laughs again.
We gather his belongings with the 27-degree winds nipping at our necks. Timothy doesn’t seem phased, but I am jumping up and down trying to warm up. He says I look like a chicken flapping its wings as he takes his time rolling up his tent.
With five bags in his hands, he gives me a blue bag that contains his sleeping bag and a sign that says “Free Healing.” Timothy says he doesn’t fly signs, but he does carry this one. When I ask how he makes money for cigarettes, considering he doesn’t panhandle, he mentions that random people give him money without begging. He believes as a child of God he has everything he needs without panhandling, but with the random money he gets he buys occasional cigarettes.
We make the long trek back to my car. It seems like miles in this cold weather, but realistically it’s probably just one mile, if that. He tosses all his stuff in my back seat and runs into the Marathon gas station to buy some coffee and use the restroom.
Upon his arrival back to my car, we head to Hippie Hill. On I-24 East, we listen to Christian contemporary music on the radio. He sings along to every song. Once we hit Christiania, Timothy gazes out the window and talks about the beautiful landscape. He looks forward to riding his bike through the twisty roads all the way to Murfreesboro, planning to visit often.
“Hey,” he says looking at me seriously, “Thank you. Thank you for this.”
I am caught off guard. Not at the fact he is a polite person, but by the fact he appreciates me. Most of the time, people don’t express genuine gratitude towards me for driving them around town, and I don’t expect a thank you.
“It’s no problem,” I say. “Today is your day.”
My bug struggles to make it up the literal hill that the hippies live on. With each inch that my tires grip the rocky hill, Timothy gets more nervous. Midway up the hill there is a gate. We are just outside the gate of Hippie Hill. Timothy is getting anxious about meeting his new family as he opens the door of my parked car.
I have never seen the electric gate closed before and I don’t know the password. Timothy is devastated that our plan seemed to fail.
“I knew I should’ve called [them],” he says woefully.
“What are you talking about?” I ask. “We are parking right here and walking up there.”
I’m planning a way to sneak in. He regains his excitement. There is a sign posted on the gate that says, “No Trespassing. Private Property.” We start walking towards the gate to hop it when Mama Jeanie, one of the leaders of Hippie Hill, opens the gate for my car to get through. I assume she remembers me from other visits and allowed us in. I’m a little disappointed we can’t sneak in.
Timothy is mumbling words I can’t understand in a childlike voice and drops all the contents of his pockets onto the ground by accident. I suggest that we leave his stuff in the car and introduce him first. He seems relieved.
We made it to Hippie Hill.
At the top of the hill, homemade street signs overwhelm our view. Some are hand-painted on wood and hanging on trees. Some are spray-painted on trailers with messages of freedom and rules. An abundance of trailers, broken-down VW buses, ancient milk trucks and tepees are in this encampment. The hippies live in these reclaimed treasures.
A stage is centered next to the playground. They say it is used for concerts that happen semi-annually. The most well-known show is “AfterRoo.” This is a show that occurs after Bonnaroo. Residents of Hippie Hill are used to having random people drop by, so AfterRoo is quite the social event.
Timothy says hello to every dog that approaches him. There are more dogs than there are people on Hippie Hill. Luckily, Timothy loves animals. We are greeted by a group of five hippies as we reach the kitchen.
The kitchen is composed of more than 200 bunk beds donated by MTSU. Members of Hippie Hill disassembled the beds and used the wood to create a building. The building is used to cook and congregate as a community. According to Dwight, a resident of the hill, there was no use for 200 beds in a camp of 30 typical residents. Although Hippie Hill residents don’t use the beds to sleep, they put the wood to good use as a structure for a beautifully built room in which to cook.
There are two rooms that are separated by a wall with a large opening resembling a bar. One room is where the stoves are located. The other is a living room with a fireplace, dining table and chairs. All of these elements are made out of materials from the 200 bunk beds as well.
As soon as Timothy introduces himself and mentions the new ordinance in Murfreesboro, one of the hippies immediately offers him a place to stay. Timothy’s new place is what they call “the bunk house.” It is a small shed with a bunk bed inside.
Mama Jeanie, one of the main decision makers, interjects with her opinion of Timothy staying on Hippie Hill.
“We can talk about it when you’re sober, actually,” she says sternly.
She thinks Timothy is high or drunk. He gets that reaction often because of his naturally squinty eyes, happy energy and slow voice. Timothy is truly sober right now.
“I am sober, ma’am,” Timothy responds politely. Mama Jeanie looks to me for confirmation. I nod.
“All right,” she says.
Timothy and I walk to the best place to look out over the hill. It’s supposed to be the best view on Hippie Hill. Timothy stands next to the fence made of wood and looks out at the beautiful pink and purple sunset.
“Everyone seems really nice,” I say.
“Yeah,” whispers Timothy, “I don’t know why I was so scared to come here.”
“How does it feel to have a room now?” I ask. “You’re not homeless anymore!”
“I’m not homeless,” says Timothy, “Home is just wherever I am at the moment.”
Timothy happily marches back to the kitchen with a smile stretching across his face. He takes a puff of a cigarette with his new roommate and friends. He looks at me, still smiling, and raises his eyebrows as if to say, “We finally made it.”
We made it to Hippie Hill.