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Encounters | An occasional feature

Eviction leaves St. Petersburg couple 'broke and broken'

Rene “Rose” Woodworth weeps and gets a hug from friend Marty Shanahan as she tries to sell what’s left of her belongings July 19 in a lot near the apartment from which she was evicted.

KATHLEEN FLYNN | Times

Rene “Rose” Woodworth weeps and gets a hug from friend Marty Shanahan as she tries to sell what’s left of her belongings July 19 in a lot near the apartment from which she was evicted.

ST. PETERSBURG

Rose Woodworth stood in the center of a weedy parking lot off Fifth Street, surveying what was left of her life:

A wooden coffee table. A plastic dish drainer. Three Southern Living cookbooks.

Everything was strewn around the asphalt. Off to one side, she kept the things she wanted to take with her: Blue flowered sheets. Red Huffy bicycle. A portrait of Jesus, drawn by a friend.

"Hey, is this a garage sale or what?" asked a man walking by.

"Yep," said Rose. "This is all our stuff. We just got evicted. . . . We're trying to sell enough to get $99 so we can get a motel for three days."

• • •

Rene "Rose" Woodworth, 50, used to take care of elderly shut-ins. But since a car accident left her too hurt to work, she has been living on food stamps — and her boyfriend.

Leslie "Les" Troupe, 52, was a cook. They met five years ago at the Society of St. Vincent DePaul shelter, where he worked and she volunteered.

In October, they moved into a two-room apartment next to Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church. Ground level, with wooden floors and a dirt yard.

There, they read Indiana Jones, watched Godzilla, had friends over for barbecue.

In December, Les lost his job. He got $644 a month unemployment. Rent and utilities were $600.

For May, they scraped together $300. For June, $250. When they had nothing for July, the landlord told them to leave.

They had nowhere to go.

A sheriff's deputy had come by that morning. By 10 a.m., they had dragged everything into the church parking lot.

• • •

They sold their dresser. The microwave. The DVD player. For $10, they threw in Godzilla. By 6 p.m., they had $43.

"How much for this?" a woman asked, holding a yellow sheet and a lacy blue bra.

Rose winced. Had it really come to selling her bra?

"Five dollars."

"How about $2?"

Rose said, "Thank you." Then she lifted her sunglasses and wiped her eyes.

• • •

Imagine having to sell everything just to get a cheap motel room for a few nights. To watch people paw through your books, clothes and memories, scrutinizing every piece of you, discarding most. And haggling over the rest.

How do you put a price on your boyfriend's favorite ballcap?

"This time, we are truly broke," said Rose. "Broke and broken."

They had never had much — no car, no computer. They both had criminal records: she for drugs, he for being disorderly. But for a few years, they had held onto the edges of an okay existence. They had a home, hot water, food, and a bicycle.

Now, there was no room for reflection. They had to sell their dignity a few dollars at a time.

• • •

"Hey, how much do you want for that bike?" asked a man. Les shook his head. "It's not for sale."

"How much you got?" asked Rose.

The man straddled the bike. "I'll give you $15."

"Make it $20," Rose said.

Now they had $65. But they would have to walk the two miles to the motel.

As the sun began to sink, so did their hopes. No one was buying. Was everything they owned worthless?

Just before 9 p.m., as the streetlights flickered on, a woman bent beside the KEEP pile and picked up a cardboard tube. She shook out a pen-and-ink portrait of Jesus. "This is lovely," she said.

"A friend drew it for me," said Rose. "He said God guided his hand. It's not for sale."

The woman nodded, stared again at the sketch, then handed Rose two $20 bills. Jesus saves.

"We made it!" Les cried. "We got enough for the motel!"

Rose shrugged. "We've been out here 12 hours. I'm sunburned. I'm hungry. I'm too tired to walk all that way."

She slid a recliner across the parking lot, into the shadows. Shook out her blue flowered sheet. On the chair no one wanted, beneath the single sheet she had saved, she curled on her side and closed her eyes. "Don't worry," she told Les. "It will all be gone in the morning."

Lane DeGregory can be reached at degregory@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8825.

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Encounters is dedicated to small but meaningful stories. Sometimes they play out far from the tumult of the daily news; sometimes they may be part of it. To comment or suggest an idea for a story, contact editor Mike Wilson at mike@sptimes.com or (727) 892-2924.

Eviction leaves St. Petersburg couple 'broke and broken' 07/26/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 26, 2011 11:52pm]

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