The Family

Photographs & Text by Charles Ommanney

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Ray and Yolanda Thompson stood in their rented apartment in a ‘down in the heels’ West Palm Beach Neighborhood, surrounded by what was left of their lives. They rescued the reproduction antique sofa covered in red damask, but almost everything else was gone. On Yolanda’s left hand, a pale line has almost faded from view. Their wedding bands have gone to pawn shops and gold buyers. There’s no laptop, no cable, and only one shared cell phone, a critical link to possible jobs. College savings accounts for daughter Yorainy and son Derrick drained long ago. In the space of four years, the Thompsons lives have traced the nation’s recession game of snakes and ladders: a climb to middle class prosperity, then a downward slide through foreclosure and unemployment.

When their mortgage shot to more than $2000 a month in 2007, the Thompsons became early casualties of the nation’s foreclosure crisis. Three years later, they added another statistic: unemployed. Ray lost his job as an architect; Yolanda lost her’s as a nurse. They survived a year, their dignity whittled away with each possession sold, each withdrawal from a college fund, yet Ray was confident that “another job was only two weeks away.” Finally, they were out of options and rent money. “Imagine telling your teenagers you’ve lost their home, there is nothing left. That they have to move into a shelter and all they can take is their clothes. Listening as they weep, trying to explain it to their friends.” The shelter gave them short-term jobs, testing and repacking Comcast cable equipment, but disaster is looming again. A bureaucratic snafu cut off their $500 monthly food stamp allowance and Ray’s $277 a week unemployment checks. At the time of this story, their 90 day limit in the shelter had been reached and the family was rehoused in an apartment complex.

This story, shot exclusively for Stern Magazine, follows the Thompson family for a week of their lives.