Christy and Christopher Angle say they dont have enough money this year to buy Christmas gifts for their two young children, but thats not the worst of their worries.
The Charlotte couple have been surviving without a home after being evicted 14 months ago.
Lately, that has meant bouncing back and forth between the houses of different relatives, including normally staying 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. at his mothers house and 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. sleeping on an air mattress at her sisters house.
Its been the worst year of my life, says Christy Angle, 34, sounding exhausted. One bad thing after another has happened. And wherever we try to go, we feel like an imposition.
Angles part-time fast-food job brings in only about $350 every two weeks, so the Angles are turning to the Salvation Armys Christmas Bureau to get free toys for their girls, Arianna and Alexandria, ages 1 and 4, respectively.
The program, which helps struggling families, is providing 12,200 children with toys this season, paid for in part with donations made by Observer readers to the Empty Stocking Fund.
Salvation Army officials say they arent sure how many of the children being helped this year are homeless, but it could be in the thousands. Many struggling families such as the Angles stay as long as possible with relatives or friends. Others live in hotels until their savings runs out, experts say.
Christy Angle prefers to think of her family as living in between housing and homelessness. I dont want to go to a shelter because the family would be split up: Me and the kids at the womens shelter, and my husband at the mens shelter. That would be hard on us.
In reality, she and her two children couldnt even get into the Charlotte womens shelter right now. The Center of Hope shelter is closed to new admissions because of overcrowding.
Family homelessness in Charlotte has risen 21 to 36 percent annually since 2009 as parents have been forced to deal with layoffs, low wages and cuts in hours associated with the economic downturn.
The Angles, who married in 2000, have been on a financial downslide since Christopher Angle, 34, was laid off at the start of the recession in 2009. They lost a home, three cars and all their belongings along the way. We had been living the American dream, he says.
Christopher Angle has tried to make ends meet by finding temporary jobs, such as building replacement windows, doing demolition jobs, and working on cars and as a dish washer. Meanwhile, his unemployment has run out.
Ive applied for over 100 jobs in the past year, he says. Nobody is hiring. Nobody is giving chances. There is no economic recovery for people like us. Its just bad.
Theyll be waking up this Christmas morning at his mothers house, in the same bedroom he had as a teenager.
A silver lining in all this, he says, is discovering that he married the right woman, one wholl stand beside him no matter what happens. His two kids think hes the greatest dad in the world, too.
He met Christy in 1994 while they were attending the same junior high school in Charlotte. Theyd known each other just three months when he pulled out a ring one day in the school hallway and asked her to marry him. His recollection of the moment isnt romantic, however. I tossed the ring at her, he says, laughing.
That could be why she made him wait six years before they tied the knot.
Both say their Christmas wish is for a full-time job.
Theyd like their own home if even for just a day where Christy Angle wants to observe all the old holiday traditions her grandmother brought from Germany, including plates of candies rather than stockings. I want to see my kids eyes light up, she says. And I want to see them hopping up and down for joy.
Either way, the couple plan to hold a special ceremony on Christmas afternoon for their oldest daughter, Alexandra.
Shell turn 5 on Christmas, and the Angles say they always make it a point to give her cake and presents just like any other child gets on their birthday.
She was the greatest Christmas present I ever got, Christopher Angle says.
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