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

Lebanese Media Unite to Support Palestinians in Gaza

Joint newscast billed as Arab world’s first unified news bulletin in support of Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip More

Photogallery Australian PM Alleges ‘Coverup’ at MH17 Crash Site

Meanwhile, Russia's ambassador to Malaysia denies plane's black boxes were opened before they were handed over to Malaysian officials More

Despite Advances in AIDS Treatment, Stigma Lingers

Leading immunologist tells VOA that stigma is often what prevents those infected with disease from seeking treatment 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.
IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Formi
X
July 22, 2014 10:26 AM
Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Relic of Saint Draws Catholics Worried About Immigration Issue

A Roman Catholic saint who is a figure of devotion for those crossing the border into the United States is attracting believers concerned about the plight of undocumented immigrants. Mike O'Sullivan reports from Los Angeles, where a relic of Saint Toribio has drawn thousands to local churches.
Video

Video Ukraine Rebels Surrender MH17 Black Boxes

After days of negotiations, a senior separatist leader handed over two black boxes from an airliner downed over eastern Ukraine to Malaysian experts early Tuesday. While on Monday, the U.N. Security Council unanimously demanded that armed groups controlling the crash site allow safe and unrestricted access to the wreckage.
Video

Video In Cambodia, HIV Diagnosis Brings Deadly Shame

Although HIV/AIDS is now a treatable condition, a positive diagnosis is still a life altering experience. In Cambodia, people living with HIV are often disowned by friends, family and the community. This humiliation can be unbearable. We bring you one Cambodian woman’s struggle to overcome a life tragedy and her own HIV positive diagnosis.
Video

Video Nature of Space Exploration Enters New Age

Forty-five years ago this month, the first humans walked on the moon. It was during an era of the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union. World politics have changed since then and -- as Elizabeth Lee reports -- so has the nature of space exploration.
Video

Video Chicago’s Argonne Lab Developing Battery of the Future

In 2012, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science awarded a $120 million grant to a new technology center focused on battery development - headquartered at Argonne National Laboratory in suburban Chicago, Illinois. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there scientists are making the next technological breakthroughs in energy storage.
Video

Video In NW Pakistan, Army Offensive Causes Massive Number of Displaced

Pakistan’s army offensive in North Waziristan has resulted in the large-scale displacement of the local population. VOA's Ayaz Gul reports from northwest Pakistan where authorities say around 80 percent of the estimated 1 million internally displaced persons [IDPs] have settled in Bannu district, while much of the remaining 20 percent are scattered in nearby cities.
Video

Video Kurdish Peshmerga Force Secures Kirkuk, Its Oil

The Kurdistan regional government has sent its Peshmerga troops into the adjacent province of Kirkuk to drive out insurgents, and to secure the area's rich oil fields. By doing this, the regional government has added a fourth province to the three it officially controls. The oil also provides revenue that could make an independent Kurdistan economically strong. VOA’s Jeffrey Young went out with the Peshmerga and filed this report.
Video

Video Malaysia Reeling: Second Air Disaster in Four Months

Malaysia is reeling from the second air disaster in four months involving the country’s flag carrier. Flight 340 vanished in March and despite an extensive search, no debris has been found. And on Thursday, Flight 17, likely hit by a surface-to-air missile, came apart over eastern Ukraine. The two incidents together have left more than 500 people dead. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Kuala Lumpur.

AppleAndroid

World Currencies

EUR
USD
0.7305
JPY
USD
101.53
GBP
USD
0.5830
CAD
USD
1.0656
INR
USD
60.075

Rates may not be current.