Raleigh homeless couple: 'Within a blink of an eye, it can be you'

Posted February 20, 2012

John and Lee Venable

— Raleigh couple John and Lee Venable are part of the nearly 13,000 North Carolinians who are homeless. Out of work for a year and living in their vehicle, they warn others that “within a blink of an eye, it can be you, too.”

“Life twists and turns. Some of the best of us, they lose jobs. They get laid off,” Lee Venable said. “You just never know.”

Despite the slumping economy, the number of homeless people in the U.S. has decreased by 1 percent since 2009, according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness. However, the number of homeless families in North Carolina has risen 22 percent.

Keeping a head count on the homeless can be tricky. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs tries to track the number of homeless veterans by counting how many people it serves.

Locally, WRAL News followed volunteers with the 100,000 Homes initiative and the United Way as they ventured out at night last month to find, count and try to help the homeless in Orange and Wake counties.

The groups estimate there are 2,000 homeless people on the streets in the Triangle on any given night. Those who are on the move and don’t ask for help can be some of the toughest homeless people to track down. The Venables are among those who travel and find “home” wherever they can.

“This is our home right now, and there's nowhere else for us to be,” Lee Venable said of the couple’s Mercury Mountaineer SUV. “A lot of times, I don't know the name of the street or whatever, just someplace I feel safe.”

When WRAL News met the Venables, they had recently been evicted from their apartment for not being able to pay rent and had been sleeping in their vehicle for nine days. Despite their struggles, they allowed WRAL’s cameras to document a day and night in their life.

“We have been looking for work (and) can't find work,” Lee Venable said, crying.

WRAL News tagged along as the couple stopped at the Women's Center of Wake County and tearfully met director Jean Williams. They told her they had been evicted and were facing a deadline to get their belongings out of the apartment. If they didn’t meet the deadline, they said, they would lose their things.

Lee Venable Raleigh homeless couple warns: 'It can be you'

Williams made a phone call and convinced the landlord to give the Venables a few extra days to clear out their apartment. She also gave them some gas money after the couple ran out of gas in the parking lot.

John Venable said he usually walks to the nearest gas station, but on this day, WRAL News drove him to fill up his container. Later, he and his wife stopped at a southeast Raleigh park to eat some leftover chicken wings and water they bought with a gift card from the Women’s Center.

John Venable has been out of work for a year but said he recently found a manual labor job. It was too late to keep his apartment. Instead, his first paycheck went to buy car insurance for their SUV. He takes the family plight personally.

“Not being able to feel like a man, provide for the family, it's kind of hard to hold your head up,” he said.

When asked if they ever imagined they’d be living in the car, the couple replied: “Never. Never.”

“I don't want to be in the car,” Lee Venable said, crying. “(I’m) tired of sitting in this car. I want to get out and stretch. I really want to lay down.”

Volunteers from the Women’s Center of Wake County, Healing Place, Raleigh Rescue Mission and Passage Home came together to move the Venables' belongings out of their apartment. They convinced a local storage facility to donate a unit. Since John Venable now has a job, Triangle Family Services is working to settle the bill with the old landlord and help secure a new apartment for them.

As the sun went down, the couple left the city park and headed to a local Food Lion – not to shop, but to bathe. After working all day, John Venable doesn't have a place to shower, so he washes up in the grocery store's bathroom sink.

The husband and wife then scouted out a place they've stayed before – a Walmart parking lot. They parked the car, got out blankets and settled into their bucket seat beds. As night drew quieter, Lee Venable began singing: “I was thinking it’s a beautiful day. I was thinking it will be OK ... 'cause I know He watches over me.”

“That song is how I make it,” she said.

The Venables say they’re thankful for their SUV and for each other. They turned down opportunities to stay in a shelter because it would have forced them to be apart, they said.

“If I'm going to struggle, I'm going to struggle with her,” John Venable said.


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  • whatelseisnew Feb 28, 2012

    "Where are all the 'love thy neighbor,' give to charity, bible thumpers now? Screaming "not my problem" and its "all your fault!""

    What is it you are doing to help these people? Anything? Are you giving to charity? ANd how could the great Obama allow this to happen? Maybe he can invite them to one of his fund raisers and at least feed them. As to these people, they are in fact responsible for their plight. I was laid off over two years ago and because of actions I took, I am still in my house and have not had to make any life style changes. Unfortunately, far too many people do not take any action to prepare themselves for a life emergency. Perhaps you should contact the altar of the Government and ask them how it is they are allowing people to go homeless.

  • caroexc Feb 21, 2012

    another example of the effects of this economy which we are, in large measure, tolerating in total silence. Thank God they received some help. Maybe some others can be helped as well, especially those with children.

  • tjdebord Feb 21, 2012

    "For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again."

    God bless the Venables, and God bless the United States of America.

  • truthandhappiness Feb 21, 2012

    praying for this family & for all the other homeless people out there... may God watch over and protect them all!

  • WooHoo2You Feb 20, 2012

    Where are all the 'love thy neighbor,' give to charity, bible thumpers now? Screaming "not my problem" and its "all your fault!"

  • WooHoo2You Feb 20, 2012

    Wait till $4 gas hits after saying NO to the pipeline and 50,000 jobs. getrealpeople

    50000 jobs?!? First it was 6000 then 20000 now 50000?!? Get real people.... BTW all of those numbers are TEMPORARY construction jobs no matter which bit of hype you choose to believe.

  • eyeoneastsky Feb 20, 2012

    I have had it with you self righteous creeps who think a homeless person just has to be either mentally ill, a substance abuser or a criminal. It is not about inability to spend wisely or lack of planning for the future. It is about not having enough money to start with. All people are not equal. We do not all have the same abilities or income. Apartment rent is sky high as is everything else we have to have to live and thrive. Everything but those pay checks.

  • storchheim Feb 20, 2012

    Larky, where were they going to find water if they didn't buy it? Uh, no home = no faucets.

  • storchheim Feb 20, 2012

    "Sounds like a typical egotistical,materialistic person there..."

    WHERE do you see THAT? Uhavenomeds....

  • Hammerhead Feb 20, 2012

    What's a "big degree" Rabiddog?