As part of our ongoing race to the bottom, having an American family of five live in a motel room is something for which they should be grateful. Afte
March 11, 2009

As part of our ongoing race to the bottom, having an American family of five live in a motel room is something for which they should be grateful. After all, how many other families are living in storage bins?

COSTA MESA, Calif. — Greg Hayworth, 44, graduated from Syracuse University and made a good living in his home state, California, from real estate and mortgage finance. Then that business crashed, and early last year the bank foreclosed on the house his family was renting, forcing their eviction.

Now the Hayworths and their three children represent a new face of homelessness in Orange County: formerly middle income, living week to week in a cramped motel room.

“I owe it to my kids to get out of here,” Mr. Hayworth said, recalling the night they saw a motel neighbor drag a half-naked woman out the door while he beat her.

As the recession has deepened, longtime workers who lost their jobs are facing the terror and stigma of homelessness for the first time, including those who have owned or rented for years. Some show up in shelters and on the streets, but others, like the Hayworths, are the hidden homeless — living doubled up in apartments, in garages or in motels, uncounted in federal homeless data and often receiving little public aid.

The Hayworths tried staying with relatives but ended up last September at the Costa Mesa Motor Inn, one of more than 1,000 families estimated to be living in motels in Orange County alone. They are among a lucky few: a charity pays part of the $800-a-month charge while Mr. Hayworth tries to recreate a career.

The family, which includes a 15-year-old daughter, shares a single room and sleeps on two beds. With most possessions in storage, they eat in two shifts, on three borrowed plates — all that one jammed cabinet can hold. His wife, Terri, has health problems and, like many other families, they cannot muster the security deposit and other upfront costs of renting a new place.

Motel families exist by the hundreds in Denver, along freeway-bypassed Route 1 on the Eastern Seaboard, and in other cities from Chattanooga, Tenn., to Portland, Ore. But they are especially prevalent in Orange County, which has high rents, a shortage of public housing and a surplus of older motels that once housed Disneyland visitors.

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