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Raleigh homeless couple says 'big nightmare' is finally over

Posted June 11, 2012
Updated September 12, 2013

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— 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.

John and Lee Venable Photos: John and Lee Venable's new home

“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.

John and Lee Venable Homeless couple: 'Big nightmare' is finally over

“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:

86 Comments

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  • DontVote4LiarsCheatsOrThieves Jun 21, 2012

    I wish someone would give me a handout like that. I'm a single elderly woman trying to live on Social Security retirement checks and a small (very small) income from a part-time job. I drive a little old car, and am one major breakdown of that car away from disaster and homelessness.

  • DontVote4LiarsCheatsOrThieves Jun 13, 2012

    Aetius - "these people are not exactly "victims", they have made lots of repetitive mistakes..."

    You could be right.

    Time will tell.

    In the meantime, I wish them the best.

  • piene2 Jun 12, 2012

    This is so typical of the, "Me, me, me" people.

    LOL....yep nothing like complaining that you have to work for it while others do not. Supporters of socialism are just wanting that free ride from those that decide to work hard. Warning....eventually people will stop working hard then who will feed everyone?
    ncouterbanks69

    Yep nothing like complaining about people that are in dire straits and require help. Yep nothing like calling people who believe in helping their fellow human beings Socialists, which by the way is not all bad. Yep nothing like shoving ones fat jowls into the feeding troth and ignoring those who hunger. Yep, yep, yep, It is really easy to see what is wrong here in the United States of America. It is those greedy swine that care nothing about anyone but themselves. I would far rather be called a liberal or a socialist than be a part of the greedy, self serving class of, "Me, me, me' people.

  • Karmageddon Jun 12, 2012

    I used to tell my kids to go to school and study hard in the hopes that they would eventually get good jobs. Seems now like they should do the opposite.

  • ICTrue Jun 12, 2012

    "This is so typical of the, "Me, me, me" people. As long as they have their place at the feeding troth everyone else can starve for all they care." fayncmike

    How about the one's that are continually filling the feeding trough?

  • aetius476 Jun 12, 2012

    Count your blessings that you've never had to wash up in a sink or sleep on a bench instead of looking down on others and wishing they'd stop being 'selfish' and making you uncomfortable.- Pepe Silvia

    I do count my blessings Pepe.

    But I also have not been charged with assault, failed to make child support payments, abandoned my wife and kids, been busted for selling drugs near a school, used drugs while on probation, quit my job at a time I could not support my family, etc.

    these people are not exactly "victims", they have made lots of repetitive mistakes...

  • promethazine codeine lover Jun 12, 2012

    Loveapex, could you forward me the website you use to see all that public info you posted earlier?

  • Dan Cooper Jun 12, 2012

    Stories about couples who work hard, keep the bills paid and stay out of trouble aren't as heartwarming!

  • ncouterbanks69 Jun 12, 2012

    Count your blessings that you've never had to wash up in a sink or sleep on a bench instead of looking down on others and wishing they'd stop being 'selfish' and making you uncomfortable.

    As children maybe. As an adult you can do something about it instead of sulking. Some of us (apparently including hammerhead which I never thought I would say) worked hard, paid our own way and yet get punished because others simply do not want to....that or think the world owes them something. It does not.

  • ncouterbanks69 Jun 12, 2012

    This is so typical of the, "Me, me, me" people. As long as they have their place at the feeding troth everyone else can starve for all they care.

    LOL....yep nothing like complaining that you have to work for it while others do not. Supporters of socialism are just wanting that free ride from those that decide to work hard. Warning....eventually people will stop working hard then who will feed everyone?

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