News / Economy

Slide into Homelessness Jolts Middle Class US Families

High unemployment could force more Americans from their homes

Tammy Renault, her husband and four of their five sons now live in a donated travel-trailer.
Tammy Renault, her husband and four of their five sons now live in a donated travel-trailer.

Multimedia

Audio
Mike Osborne

Every American neighborhood seems to have one mom to whom all the children gravitate. In a community in the small town of Lebanon, Tennesee, that person is Tammy Renault. But she never expected to be super-mom in this particular neighborhood.

The Renaults are one of more than 20 homeless families currently living in Lebanon's Timberline Campground. Timberline's the kind of place someone with a tent or camper might spend a night; a day or two at most. The Renaults have been here since last August.


More than 20 homeless families currently live at the Timberline Campground in Lebanon, Tennesee.
More than 20 homeless families currently live at the Timberline Campground in Lebanon, Tennesee.


From comfortable middle-class to uncertain future

It's a giant step down from the three-bedroom home they lost. Renault says her family's slide into homelessness started nearly two years ago when her husband Troy lost his construction job. "[For] a little under a year," she recalls, "we just kind of maintained living expense. But then it just got to a point where, with the economy shifting, it caused people to no longer really utilize his services."

Troy Renault says when the money got tight, the family started having to make some difficult choices. "You wind up starting to think to yourself, 'Okay. Do we go ahead and make the house payment and keep a roof over our head but have no lights and no water, or do you go ahead and keep those utilities on and forego the house payment, and hope that you can get it caught up?' And it just kept going where it got further and further behind until we wound up losing the home."


The Renaults and four of their children make do in a travel-trailer with 20 square meters of living space.
The Renaults and four of their children make do in a travel-trailer with 20 square meters of living space.

The Renaults and four of their five sons are now living in a donated travel-trailer; down from 170 square meters of living space to 20.

Hard lessons  

But beyond the physical hardships, Tammy Renault says her family is getting a crash course in what it means, socially, to be labeled homeless. "It's being called names. It's being ridiculed. It's running into people that have seen you in your highest and are not even speaking to you anymore because they're too afraid for where you are and don't know what to say."

Liz Reese recently opened Lebanon's first homeless shelter. She says city leaders initially questioned the need for such a facility, but the shelter's been at capacity every night for the last six months. "I average anywhere from seven to 14 calls a day...people looking for places to go and stay. The way the economy is and job loss, the numbers are increasing." Reese has had to place the overflow in local hotels and at campgrounds like Timberline.

It's a similar story in many communities around the country. The unemployment rate stands at 10 percent, near a 26-year high. Economists predict that the number of Americans who can't pay their mortgage and lose their homes to foreclosure will continue to rise this year. Last year, 860,000 properties were repossessed.

Troy Renault spends most days repairing things for his campground neighbors free of charge.
Troy Renault spends most days repairing things for his campground neighbors free of charge.

The new face of the homeless

Most Americans imagine the homeless to be from the poorest levels of society, misfits, perhaps alcoholics or drug addicts. Reese says that's generally not the case with the homeless she works with. "There are people out here who have master's degrees and college education and are not high school dropouts. We've had people who came out of $300,000 homes."

That's no surprise to sociologist James Wright of the University of Central Florida. He's made a career of studying America's homeless. He discredits another common misconception of the homeless as shiftless panhandlers. "Most homeless men spend their days either working or at least looking for work, frequently in the day labor outlets," he says. "So there's always been a pretty substantial representation of working poor people among the homeless population and I'm sure, with the current recession, their numbers have increased."

Troy Renault is a perfect example. He does find work occasionally but not often enough to get into a new home. He spends most days repairing things for his campground neighbors without charge. He says he's learned that work has its own reward. "It made it much easier for us to go through the day-to-day because we weren't focused on what was going on with us. We were able to do stuff to, you know, help other people."

A person of faith, Tammy Renault says she's also found something positive about her poor circumstances. "No matter where I am, or what I'm going through, if I just choose to trust God, regardless of how I feel, if I choose to trust God, he'll take care of me."

The Renaults don't see themselves getting out of the campground anytime soon. But they also don't seem to mind quite as much as you might expect. As Troy Renault observes, Americans always seem to be at their best when times are hardest.

You May Like

US Investors Eye IPO for China's Alibaba

E-commerce giant handled 80 percent of China's online business last year, logging more Internet transactions than US-based Amazon.com and eBay combined More

Video Uneasy Calm Settles Over Israel, Gaza Strip

As cease-fire begins, Palestinians celebrate in streets; Israelis remain wary More

Video Chinese Doctors Use 3-D Spinal Implant

In treatment of a 12-year-old boy Chinese doctors used a 3-D printer and special software to create an exact replica of vertebra More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Chinese Doctors Use 3-D Spinal Implanti
X
August 27, 2014 4:53 PM
A Chinese boy suffering from a debilitating bone disease has become the first patient with a part of his spine created in a three-dimensional printer. Doctors say he will soon regain normal mobility. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Chinese Doctors Use 3-D Spinal Implant

A Chinese boy suffering from a debilitating bone disease has become the first patient with a part of his spine created in a three-dimensional printer. Doctors say he will soon regain normal mobility. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Uneasy Calm Settles Over Israel, Gaza Strip

Israel and the Gaza Strip have been calm since a cease-fire set in Tuesday evening, ending seven weeks of hostilities. Hamas, which controls Gaza, declared victory. Israelis were more wart. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jerusalem.
Video

Video India’s Leprosy Battle Stymied by Continuing Stigma

Medical advancements in the treatment of leprosy have greatly diminished its impact around the world, largely eliminating the disease from most countries. India made great strides in combating leprosy, but still accounts for a majority of the world’s new cases each year, and the number of newly infected Indians is rising - more than 130,000 recorded last year. Doctors there say the problem has more to do with society than science. VOA News reports from Kolkata.
Video

Video Northern California Quake: No Way to Know When Next One Will Hit

A magnitude 6.0 earthquake rocked northern California’s Napa Valley on Sunday. Roads twisted and water mains burst. It was the wine country’s most severe quake in 15 years, and while hospitals treated many people, no one was killed. Arash Arabasadi has more from Washington on what the future may hold for those residents living on a fault line.
Video

Video Scientists Unlock Mystery of Bird Flocks

How can flocks of birds, schools of fish or herds of antelope suddenly change direction -- all the individuals adjusting their movement in concert, at seemingly the same time? British researchers now have some insights into this behavior, which has puzzled scientists for a long time. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video Ukraine: Captured Troops Proof of Russian Role in Separatist Fight

Ukrainian officials say they have captured Russian soldiers on Ukrainian territory -- the latest accusation of Moscow's involvement in the conflict in eastern Ukraine. VOA's Gabe Joselow reports from the Ukrainian side of the battle, where soldiers are convinced of Russia's role.
Video

Video Rubber May Soon Come From Dandelions

Synthetic rubber has been around for more than a century, but quality tires for cars, trucks and aircraft still need up to 40 percent or more natural rubber content. As the source of natural rubber, the rubber tree, is prone to disease and can be affected by bad weather. So scientists are looking for replacements. And as VOA’s George Putic reports, they may have found one in a ubiquitous weed.
Video

Video Jewish Life in Argentina Reflected in Yiddish Tango

Jewish people from across Europe and Russia have been immigrating to Argentina for hundreds of years. They brought with them dance music that were eventually mixed with Argentine tango. The result is Yiddish tango -- a fusion of melodies and cultural experiences that is still evolving today. Elizabeth Lee reports from the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles, where one band is bringing Yiddish tango to an American audience.

AppleAndroid

World Currencies

EUR
USD
0.7537
JPY
USD
103.79
GBP
USD
0.6032
CAD
USD
1.0957
INR
USD
60.522

Rates may not be current.