"Typically, if families lose their homes, unless they have relatives, they're scrambling," says Maj. George Hood, national community relations secretary for the Salvation Army. "We're really seeing an uptick in homelessness right now. You have to rescue some from sleeping in vehicles.
"They're embarrassed and don't want to ask for help. They've found themselves in situations they never expected, and you're also finding families and people with established homes out there on the street."
The intensity of the foreclosure crisis helps explain why. For the first quarter of this year, the rate of new foreclosures hit 0.99%, the highest since record-keeping began in 1979, the Mortgage Bankers Association reported. About 2.47% of all mortgages were in some stage of foreclosure during those three months, another record. And more than 2 million foreclosures were reported in 2007, according to the National Coalition for the Homeless.
For some who've lost homes to foreclosure, charitable groups are a desperate alternative to living on the streets.
Take Judy Johnson, 46, of Sacramento, who works 10-hour days as a hair stylist. Johnson and her husband, Gregory, 52, had been living for eight years in a two-story, 3,000-square-foot home when he lost his job as a supervisor in waste management. He also developed diabetes, fell into a coma and was hospitalized for a short time. He is now recovered.
Judy, a mother of four, tried to support her family and make the mortgage bills on her single income because Gregory was unemployed.
"We became paycheck-to-paycheck," she says.
Ultimately, the family fell behind on their payments. In December, the home was sold at auction, and the family had to move out. They had no savings left, Judy says, and no family or friends who could take them in. And they couldn't afford the security deposits of $2,000 or so that landlords were requesting.
"We were thinking we would have to separate the family; we had nowhere to go, nobody to help us," she says. "We were basically homeless. We were on the verge."
The tension caused Judy to overeat, and for her and her husband to fall into frequent arguments. But just days before they were to leave, the Salvation Army told them it could provide her with a security deposit on an apartment.
Some charitable groups will provide financial help, such as a rental deposit and money for groceries. The Salvation Army will provide assistance to people who meet certain qualifications. Clients meet with a case worker and provide information such as proof of residency, Social Security numbers of each person in the household, proof of income, statements of alimony and/or child support and lease agreements. A background check is often conducted, too.
"I was just sitting on the couch, and I was just sitting there lost, thinking, 'I have to figure out how to get all this stuff out,' and we had no place to go," Judy says. "I never thought I'd be facing homelessness. Some days, I couldn't focus on my job. The tension was so high in the house."
Now, they're in an apartment with three bedrooms, two bathrooms and a balcony to barbecue on. Judy says that after facing homelessness, she realizes that in today's wobbly real estate market, the same fate can befall almost anyone, even a middle-class two-earner family, as her own had been. Gregory is still looking for a job.