"Sleeping In The Dirt"

Seth Doane is a CBS News correspondent based in New York.
(CBS)
There is no way to avoid the news of our struggling economy. For months in our series "The Other America" we've been chronicling the tough time that Americans are having as they try to pay their bills and juggle responsibilities. So, when our LA Bureau Chief pointed to a story about the tent city that sprung up in Reno, Nevada, we knew that it was something we should look into.

This spring, right in the middle of downtown Reno, a tent city started to crop up. It started with just a few tents scattered along the railway tracks. But as more people started to set up camp the city decided they needed to organize the tents, establish some rules, and provide what services they could. Now, roughly 170 people call this "tent city" home.

Organizers say that the people living here are a combination of the chronically homeless and the "newly" homeless. One city official suggested that it was roughly a 50-50 mix (chronically homeless vs. newly homeless) but that an exact number was hard to determine. The so-called "newly" homeless are recent casualties of this tough economy. These are folks who were living paycheck to paycheck and may have lost their jobs or had expenses that became too costly to bear. Many of the people living in tent city are looking for work but cannot find it. Others are working but not making enough to move out of a tent.

In our story on the Evening News, you'll meet Michael Moore and Marian Schamp. The show us photos of a better time which wasn't so long ago. Just last Christmas, they lived in a house they rented (they told us their rent was more than $500/month) until Michael lost the job he had at a gas station and Marian was diagnosed with diabetes. Michael never found work again and the couple moved to Reno in search of jobs, which they never found.

Marian says that she cannot believe she's "sleeping in the dirt" at 53-years-old and adds, "I can't remember the last time I really smiled and laughed… not like I used to… you know, I don't let my family know I'm here – it's too embarrassing."

There are others living here who've found work but are not making enough to move out of the tent city. We met Gena Mercer and her partner Tom Burkett, who've been in tent city for about a month. We met them on the day that Gena received her first paycheck for a weeks' work. Her paystub read that she'd been paid about $160. Despite the fact Gena had worked for two weeks as a night porter at a nearby casino, she was not making enough to move out until the day we met. She said that she'd been in a tent on camping trips before but never imagined having to live in one. She was excited to have work and to move out, "We're doing what we need to do and we're getting back into the groove of life and back into being productive members of society," Gena told me.
  • Seth Doane

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