Reno grew up in Memphis, the son of a police officer and the grandson of a minister. Other than some wild-oats years in his early 20s, he lived what he describes as a quiet, alcohol-and drug-free life. He has four children and 13 grandchildren. All of them live in Tennessee, but none in the Memphis area. His wife died 20 years ago in a car accident. He has never remarried.
When the bottom fell out of the housing market in 2009, Reno had to close the small paint-contracting business he had started a few years earlier. He tried cutting back on payroll and other expenses, but there just wasn’t enough work to keep the company going.
Though he’d had a 38-year career in the painting business, working for Sherwin Williams and The Home Depot, Reno was not old enough to begin drawing on Social Security. At the time he closed his business, no one was hiring construction workers or paint contractors. Without a job, Reno fell behind on bills and had to sell his mobile home. “That’s how I wound up at the Memphis Rescue Mission,” he explains.
After moving into the shelter, Reno was soon assigned to work the front desk. Later, he became a resident advisor. After two years living at the shelter, he got an opportunity to work on a construction project in Nashville. Once that was completed the company moved him to Phoenix to work on a new mall.
“Some people adapt to the dry climate in Arizona, but my sinuses started bleeding, making me anemic. The doctors told me that if I stayed in Phoenix, I’d spend half my time in the hospital. So I moved back to Memphis, right back here to the Rescue Mission.”
Now 63, Reno is on a waiting list for an apartment complex run by the Salvation Army. He is receiving $909 a month in Social Security benefits, $303 of which will go to pay for rent and utilities.
“I have to watch my pennies, but I get by,” he says.
Reno is saving for a car, which he will need once he moves out of the Rescue Mission. He is also hopeful of getting a part-time job in an Ace Hardware store near the apartment complex where he will be living. He expects to be able to make $15,000 a year.
“I’m not the kind of person to sit around and twiddle my thumbs and watch TV all day. That’s not good for you.”
Since loosing his home, Reno’s biggest challenge has been remaining patient and hopeful. “Things don’t happen overnight. I’m working the front desk now, and I see people come here frustrated, discouraged, and angry. Their whole attitude can change, though, especially the ones with drug and alcohol problems. The main mission here is to bring people to Christ.”
Note: This narrative is one of thirty such stories to be included in a book titled, “Homeless in a Land of Plenty.” I have been working on the project since August, 2016. By the end of June, I will have completed visiting some 50 cities from Portland, Maine to Seattle, to San Diego, to Orlando.