Homeless, jobless: Tornado throws Dayton man’s life into disarray

Six months after the tornado ripped apart his life, Old North Dayton native Joe Guth is in bad shape: homeless and jobless and an emotional wreck.

He alternates between sleeping in his Dodge Caliber and couch surfing. He and his long-time girlfriend broke up and now she won’t let him see their cat, Charlie, he said.

And demolition crews knocked down the four houses along Troy Street where he spent his entire life. Grass is growing over the lots.

“Sadness. Disbelief. It’s really, really hard. I’m just an emotional wreck,” he said when talking about driving down Troy Street.

Related: Tenants displaced by tornadoes face tight rental market

Guth’s family has been on the block since 1935 when his grandparents bought a one-story frame house. His mother bought the red brick house next door and Guth stayed, raising Kyle and Kaylee there as well. He and his family members lived in each of four houses that stood side-by-side.

Eventually, each house was bought up by absentee landlords.

His dream these days? Buy the vacant lots and rebuild.

“The people next door at the trucking company, they wanted it to park semis on it and expand their lot. That’s like sacred ground to me. I can’t see that happening,” Guth said.

Old North Dayton was ravaged by a powerful EF-4 tornado on Memorial Day, ripping off roofs, slinging power lines, smashing cars and uprooting trees. It was one of 15 tornadoes that ripped through the Miami Valley that night.

Guth’s health is suffering too. He shed 40 pounds from the stress in his life. And he said he has the tell-tale signs of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

“All I see is that image of the house and the sound. I can’t get it out of my head. It’s just horrible,” he said. “…I ask myself what the hell I did to deserve this.”

Related: Stories of Survival: ‘I thought I was done. I thought I was going to get swept away’

He sometimes stays with his 27-year-old daughter, Kaylee, but otherwise parks his car in parks or rest stops to spend the night, he said. His 18-year-old son, Kyle, stays with his mother, Guth’s ex-girlfriend.

The total number of renters displaced is unclear. So far FEMA has awarded more than 1,000 grants to Montgomery County renters compared to about 230 for homeowners.

As a renter, Guth said he got some FEMA money to pay for hotel stays shortly after the tornadoes struck. “That money didn’t last long.” And he is getting by on food stamps for meals.

Guth said he spends his days looking for work and has submitted 280 online job applications, hoping for a position in warehousing, logistics or driving — though he doesn’t have a commercial driver’s license.

He lost his full-time job in August 2018 but had been doing piecemeal work in his garage to earn cash. But the tornado ripped that lifeline away.

“How can I concentrate on that when I don’t know where I’ll lay my head at night. People don’t understand that,” he said. “What happened in that person’s life that they became homeless? Now I can see.”

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