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Popularity of the United States

Tent cities fill with 'economic homeless'

Popularity of the United States, I like 70%

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The temperature was about 70 on Nov. 19, the sky was "totally blue," and the laughter from a martini bar drifted into the St. Petersburg, Fla., park where Marshall, 39, sat contemplating his first day of homelessness.

"I was thinking, 'That was me at one point,'" he says of the revelers. "Now I'm thinking, 'Where am I going to sleep tonight? Where do I eat? Where do I shower?'"

The unemployed Detroit autoworker moved to Florida last year, hoping he'd have better luck finding a job.

He didn't, and he spent three months sleeping on sidewalks before landing in a tent city in Pinellas County, north of St. Petersburg, on Feb. 26.

Marshall is among a growing number of the economic homeless, a term for those newly displaced by layoffs, foreclosures or other financial troubles caused by the recession.

They differ from the chronic homeless, the longtime street residents who often suffer from mental illness, drug abuse or alcoholism.

For the economic homeless, the American ideal that education and hard work lead to a comfortable middle-class life has slipped out of reach.

They're packing into motels, parking lots and tent cities, alternately distressed and hopeful, searching for work and praying their fortunes will change.

In Green Bay, which has remained fairly insulated from the major layoffs experienced throughout much of the nation, the New Community Shelter is not seeing its population swell with new homeless, but it has seen an impact of the economic hard times, said Terri Refsguard, executive director.

"Our numbers are relatively consistent, without a lot of peaks and valleys, but. the economy is becoming more of a reason for homelessness than ever before," she said.

 

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By EMILY BAZAR

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