When we think of the suburbs, we might automatically think of mostly white, middle-class, “normal” folks living in three bedroom “Knox Box” houses, a dog and a cat in tow. We might think most of these people are fairly affluent, have extra money for vacations, cars, and spending money for their kids and their extracurricular activities. This was my concept of Suburbia when I lived in town and only saw the suburbs from the car window while driving past the scores of subdivisions in and around West Knoxville.
It wasn’t until my teenagers attended public high school that I saw the realities of suburban life in Knoxville. During my time as a mom of teenagers, we often hosted teens who were in over their heads in crisis. Parents divorcing. Parents in poverty. Parents who can’t pay the mortgage and in the throes of losing their homes. One young man showed up on Thanksgiving afternoon with no place to go and needing something to eat. Another young lady ended up in my basement rec room, suicidal and needing someone to talk to. Then there was the time I discovered a homeless teen living in my daughter’s closet (complete with cigarettes, condoms, drug paraphernalia, and a few of my son’s clothes someone had snatched for his use).
At the same time as I experienced this, I worked for a Church that claimed to minister to youth through “confirmation programs,” “mission trips,” and youth group meetings that consisted of pizza parties, trips to Laser Quest, and scavenger hunts at the mall. During these years, the best youth ministry I saw was carried out by an Evangelical congregation that ran a community service program for kids getting out of juvenile detention. Little old ladies from the church taught wayward teen girls to cook for the homebound and make blankets for preemies in the local children’s hospital. The teens in the program loved it. Perhaps what they liked most was the one-on-one attention from mature adults and the opportunity to learn meaningful, practical skills.
I know there are indeed wholesome, “normal” people living in Suburbia. Perhaps I am one of them. Perhaps you are, too. But the days of the “poor” or “needy” living in another part of town are over. Poverty Next Door is the new face of Suburbia, complete with the drug use, unemployment, homelessness, crime, and other “problems” we previously associated with neighborhoods closer to the center of town. This is the New Suburbia.
For my followers: The first two chapters of Runaway Kitty are available (for free) at this link: runaway-kitty-two-free-chapters
Cynthia Coe is the author of the newly released novel, Runway Kitty, the story of a 15 year old runaway teen who journeys through this New Suburbia after her family loses their “Knox Box” home to foreclosure. She lives and works on her farm outside Knoxville, Tennessee.