A Lisa Ling Special Report
Less than five years ago, Sacramento was considered one of the fastest-growing cities in America. Now, because of one of the worst recessions in history, it has been reported that Sacramento has one of the highest rates of foreclosure in America. "People who have never been homeless are finding they have no place to live," she says. "Every shelter in Sacramento is filled to capacity."
Lisa visits a homeless shelter that has 236 women and children on its waiting list. Before America's economic collapse, it's estimated that 6,100 homeless children attended Sacramento schools. Joan, a advocate for the homeless, believes the number has increased since early 2008. "My fear is that we're going to see more than 7,000 children homeless in Sacramento schools," Joan says.
While visiting a school for homeless children, Lisa meets a 36-year-old mother of three. Favor and her children, Breeanne, Noah and Hannah, have been homeless since January 2009.
When Favor and her husband lost their jobs and could no longer keep up with their rising adjustable mortgage payments, she says they were forced to sell their condo and move into a rented one. Eventually, the couple ran out of money. Favor's husband moved in with friends, but Favor and their children split their time between two homeless shelters.
During the day, they stay at a shelter for women and children called Loaves & Fishes. At night, they sleep at the city's homeless shelter. On weekends, when the daytime shelter is closed, the family is forced to wander the streets. The transition has been hard for the entire family.
"I'm scared that I'm never going to find a home," says 9-year-old Hannah. "I'm going to live on the street."
The day Lisa spends with Favor's family is the day before Noah's 11th birthday. He got a Nintendo Wii for his 10th birthday, but this year, his wish list is very simple. "A cake and a lot of love would make it good," he says.
Lisa says Favor and her children got some good news a month after losing their home. "Her husband just got a job yesterday as a janitor in a bowling alley, but he said it's something," Lisa says. "It's something to pay some bills."
In January 2009, more than 598,000 Americans lost their jobs. Many of these people were once middle-class homeowners like 33-year-old Roslyn, a mother of two.
When her company downsized in 2007, Roslyn says she lost her $70,000-a-year job as a sales training manager. Even though her boyfriend, John, is employed, his salary wasn't enough to cover the bills and support their family of four. They lost their home to foreclosure, and are currently living in a rental apartment.
Roslyn says she spends most days looking for work. "I want a job," she says. "I don't want a hand-me-out. I want a job."
At one career resource center, Roslyn finds herself overqualified for most openings. "You often find yourself with a whole new career path in situations like this," she says.
If she could go back, Roslyn says there are two things she'd do differently—save and give more to others. "For me, the saving is huge. You have to have something that you can fall back on. Even if it's six months holding you stable down the line—that may be all you need," she says. "And tithing and giving to others...my motto is: 'You've got to release to increase,' and there's something to be said about it."
For 27 years, Norma and her husband, Michael, worked hard and built a life together. They owned a successful business, their dream home and planned to retire in their 60s. Now in their late 50s, this Colorado couple is back at square one.
When the housing market crashed in 2007, their successful mortgage business crashed with it. The bank repossessed their 2,600-square-foot home, and they were forced to move into their office space. "We expected to retire like everyone else around 62 or 65 years old," Norma says. "We still can see a light at the end of the tunnel, but the light is a little further out now."
In their small office space, Norma and Michael cook most meals in a microwave and shower at the local gym. Though they're starting over, Michael says he still has hope and encourages people in similar situations to stay positive.
"People should know not to hurt themselves. I know the emotions that you go through with this, but don't hurt yourself. Don't hurt your family," he says. "What we came to realize after all of the emotions is that it is just a house, and no one died. You can replace a house, and you can start working to get your money back."
Nine years ago, Laurie and Alec Keit quit their corporate jobs to find work they loved. Laurie became a florist, and Alec began working as a general contractor. With two steady incomes and a roof over their heads, the Keits didn't start worrying about finances until the economy began to unravel in the spring of 2008.
When times got tough, Laurie says they got loans from friends and family members, canceled their phone and cable service, stopped eating out and sold their furniture. "Anything that basically isn't nailed down, it's up for sale. We're talking about survival at this point," she says.
Then, a family friend suggested they look into a program that helps homeowners pay their bills—home sharing. "She said: 'There's a housing program that will match you up. They'll actually prescreen people, and they'll put you together,'" Laurie says.
Within days, the Keits were paired with Lori and her 17-year-old daughter, Renee. When her husband was laid off from his auto industry job in Indiana, Lori says she needed to relocate to San Francisco to pick up more hours as a flight attendant. "I had to transfer out here to help my family financially," she says. "I needed to find a safe place for both of us to live."
Two weeks into the home share, both families agree it was the right decision. "It was instant. We knew that we would be okay together," Lori says. "The second I walked into the home, I knew I was home." The Keits say they're now considering renting out another room to someone looking for a place to call home.
Oprah says it's easy to get overwhelmed by recession stories and statistics, but this is an opportunity for us all to come together.
"You can be sure that on your street or a block away or even just a town over, a family is hurting, struggling, maybe even on the verge of becoming like families we saw today—homeless," she says. "Either it's time for you to get your ducks in a row to protect your own family, or maybe you can look around and extend yourself in grace and kindness to somebody else."