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

Italian Red Cross Chief: Don't Label Migrants 'Illegal'

Speaking at the United Nations headquarters in New York Wednesday Francesco Rocca says migrants are victims, not criminals More

US Intel Officials Cautious About New IS Threat

Threat, said to have been posted by alleged American member of Islamic State terror group, says Sunday’s attack in Texas ‘is only the beginning’ More

Eyes in Sky Monitor Weather, Predict Epidemics

Satellites track storms, population movements, ocean warming to predict disease conditions 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.
Mass Grave Exposes Entrenched Trafficking in Thailandi
X
May 05, 2015 5:50 PM
Police in southern Thailand have found two more camps believed to have held human trafficking victims -- one containing a buried skeleton. This comes just days after officials announced arrests in connection with the grisly discovery of 26 bodies in a mass grave at another location. Officials suspect as many as 400 mostly ethnic Rohingya from Myanmar were being held for ransom at the remote camp near the Malaysian border. Steve Sandford reports on developments in the case.
Video

Video Mass Grave Exposes Entrenched Trafficking in Thailand

Police in southern Thailand have found two more camps believed to have held human trafficking victims -- one containing a buried skeleton. This comes just days after officials announced arrests in connection with the grisly discovery of 26 bodies in a mass grave at another location. Officials suspect as many as 400 mostly ethnic Rohingya from Myanmar were being held for ransom at the remote camp near the Malaysian border. Steve Sandford reports on developments in the case.
Video

Video Russia's 'Victory Day' Glory Over Nazis Overshadowed by Ukraine

ussia is preparing to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, known since the Soviet era as “The Great Patriotic War,” with a massive parade on May 9th of military hardware and millions of medals handed out to veterans or their relatives. But critics say the Soviet-style display of power and nationalism overshadows tragic scars during and after the war that still influence politics and foreign policy, especially in the current Ukraine crisis.
Video

Video WWII Anniversary Brings Old Friends and New Worries

The 70th anniversary of the end of World War II has special significance, with Russia becoming more assertive in Ukraine and sending its military planes to the edges of western countries’ airspace. Changes in the geostrategic balance and the transatlantic relationship are felt across the continent, not least in German towns that have hosted U.S. military bases since the defeat of Nazi Germany. VOA’s Al Pessin visited Schweinfurt, Germany, where a large base closed last year.
Video

Video Abraham Lincoln Funeral Re-created for 150th Civil War Anniversary

Over the last four years, commemorative events to mark the 150th anniversary of the U.S. Civil War have brought thousands of visitors to battlefields and historic landmarks across the country. As VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports from the Midwest state of Illinois, the final event in the Civil War's sesquicentennial honors the final journey home of the slain American President, Abraham Lincoln.
Video

Video Campaign Raises Money to 'Uncuff' Journalists

Beginning Sunday – World Press Freedom Day – the Committee to Protect Journalists, a private U.S. group, is launching a campaign to bring attention to their plight and encourage efforts to free them. Deborah Block reports.
Video

Video Volunteers Pull Together to Aid Baltimore Riot Victims

Calm has returned to Baltimore, Maryland, after authorities lifted an overnight curfew imposed almost a week ago to stem the rioting that followed the funeral of Freddie Gray - the 25-year-old black man who died of spinal injuries suffered while in police custody. Six police officers, three of them African-American, have been charged in connection with his death. Baltimore is now trying to get back to normal, in part with the help of volunteers who responded to calls to help those in the city'
Video

Video From Aleppo To Berlin: Band of Brothers Escapes Civil War

Hundreds of thousands of Syrians have fled the civil war in their country and journeyed to Europe by boat across the Mediterranean. It is a terrifying ordeal with dangers at every turn. A group of Syrian brothers and their friends describe their ordeal as they try to reach Germany. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports. ...
Video

Video Rural Nepal Suffers Brunt of Quake’s Devastation

Nepal is still coming to grips with the full extent of the devastation and misery caused by last Saturday’s magnitude 7.8 earthquake. Some of the hardest-hit communities have been cut off by landslides making it difficult to assess the precise toll. A VOA News crew has been among the first to reach a few of the smaller, remote communities. Correspondent Steve Herman reports from the Sindhupolchak district, east of Kathmandu, which suffered greatly in Nepal’s worst quake in more than 80 years.
Video

Video Obama Praises Work of 3 Immigrant Journalists

President Barack Obama met with three immigrant journalists at the White House Friday to praise them for their work ahead of World Press Freedom Day, May 3. In attendance: Dieu Cay (his pen name) a blogger from Vietnam recently released from prison; Lily Mengesha from Ethiopia who was harassed and detained for exposing the marrying off of young girls as child brides, and Fatima Tlisova, an ethnic Circassian from the North Caucasus region of Russia, who works for VOA's Russian Service.
Video

Video Middle East Atheist Channel Defies Taboo

In Egypt, a deeply religious country in a deeply religious region, atheism is not only taboo, it is dangerous. It is sometimes even criminal to publicly declare nonbelief. Despite the danger, one group of activists is pushing back with a new online channel that defends the right not to believe. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.
Video

Video Nepal Quake Survivors Tell Their Stories

Against all hope, rescuers have found a few more survivors of the devastating earthquake that hit Nepal last Saturday. Mountain climbers and hikers trapped in remote places also have been airlifted to safety, and aid is finally reaching people in the areas closest to the quake's epicenter. Survivors and rescuers are now recounting their experience. Zlatica Hoke has this story.
Video

Video Lessons for Germany, Europe Remain on Anniversary of WWII's End

The 70th anniversary of the end of World War II will be marked May 8-9 in all European countries except Germany, which lost the war. How is the war viewed there, and what impact is it still having? From Berlin, VOA’s Al Pessin reports.
Video

Video Nepal Town Destroyed By Quake Counts Itself Lucky

Foreign search teams on Wednesday began reaching some of the communities outside Kathmandu that suffered worse damage than Nepal’s capital from last Saturday’s massive earthquake. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman is in Sankhu - a town of about 10,000 people - where there is relief the death toll is not higher despite widespread destruction.
Video

Video Somali Hotel Chain Owner Strives to Make a Difference

Many in the Somali diaspora are returning home to make a new life despite the continuing risks. Since 2011 when a military campaign against Al-Shabab militants began making progress, members of the diaspora community have come back to open hospitals, schools, hotels, restaurants and other businesses. Abdulaziz Billow in Mogadishu profiles the owner of a chain of hotels and restaurants who is helping to bring change to the once-deadly Somali capital.
Video

Video Child Migrants Cross Mediterranean Alone, Face Unknown Future

Among the thousands of migrants making the deadly journey by boat to Europe, there are unaccompanied girls and boys. Some have been sent by relatives to earn money; others are orphaned or fleeing war. From a shelter for young migrants in the Sicilian town of Caltagirone, VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.

VOA Blogs

World Currencies

EUR
USD
0.8967
JPY
USD
120.22
GBP
USD
0.6616
CAD
USD
1.2116
INR
USD
63.662

Rates may not be current.