Raleigh, N.C. — For four months, Raleigh homeless couple John and Lee Venable slept in their SUV off and on, bathed in grocery store bathrooms and ate meals in parking lots. On June 1, they finally moved into an apartment, swapping bucket seats for a bed and store sinks for a shower.
“It’s good to be home,” said Lee Venable, smiling and humming as she unpacked boxes in her new Raleigh apartment. “It's like one big nightmare that's finally over.”
WRAL News profiled the Venables’ plight on Feb. 20, when the couple had been living in their Mercury Mountaineer SUV for nine days after being evicted from their home.
After their story aired, community members and businesses flooded the WRAL newsroom with phone calls and emails offering support. The Women’s Center of Wake County, which has been helping the couple, also was inundated with offers of money, gift cards and jobs.
The Venables slept in a real bed for the first time in weeks after a stranger paid for a hotel room for one night in February. Volunteers then offered a storage unit to help save the couple’s belongings, which they had nowhere to store after being evicted.
Triangle Family Services and the Wake women's center tried to get the husband and wife back on their feet again, but they soon suffered another setback.
“We were ready to kill each other,” Lee Venable said. “We were at each other's throats."
John Venable eventually left his wife and his job, putting their dreams on hold. Triangle Family Services didn't give up and stuck with the couple as John Venable returned to his manual labor job and to his wife.
“We're part of their team. We can't fix them. They can't fix them, but together, we all can make it work,” said Julie Sager, financial stability program director at Triangle Family Services. “Our goal is not to always be there for them. Our goal is to empower them to handle it on their own.”
Wake women's center Director Jean Williams has seen the Venables at their lowest point – living in an SUV – and at their highest – moving into an apartment.
“Oh, it’s so good to see you out of that truck,” Williams told the couple during a recent visit.
“This is the moment – and I'm trying very hard not to let my voice crack – that you work for when you do this kind of work,” Williams said.
As the Venables settled into their new home, they enjoyed the simple pleasures so many take for granted.
“It's a big difference when you can shower,” John Venable said. “To get a nice night’s sleep, it's wonderful, wonderful.”
“I have my own keys to my own home, and it just makes a big difference. These are better keys than car keys,” Lee Venable said. “I'm overwhelmed. It's unbelievable. I just want to thank everybody.”
How to help
Keeping a head count on the homeless can be tricky. Groups who work with the issue estimate there are 2,000 homeless people on the streets in the Triangle on any given night. Those who want to help can contact the following organizations: