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Homeless man struggles to keep warm during winter

Guy Jones' struggles illustrate the daily challenges of homelessness
Thursday, January 20, 2011 | 12:50 p.m. CST; updated 7:35 p.m. CST, Thursday, January 20, 2011

COLUMBIA — Guy Jones is homeless.

Community resources for the homeless

Missouri United Methodist Church

204 S. Ninth St.

Columbia, MO 65201

443-3111

Harbor House, Salvation Army

602 N. Ann St.

Columbia, MO 65201

442-1984

St. Francis House (temporary shelter for men)

901 Range Line St.

Columbia, MO 65201 

875-4913

Lois Bryant House (temporary shelter for women and children)

913 Range Line St.

Columbia, MO 65201

875-7874

Sol House (transitional living placement for teenagers)

1611 Town Drive (Affiliated with Rainbow House. Actual address is confidential.)

Columbia, MO 65202

449-0182

Rainbow House
 Children’s Shelter and Child Advocacy Center

1611 Towne Drive

Columbia, MO 65202

474-6600

New Life Evangelistic Center

901 Wilkes Blvd.

Columbia, MO 65201

875-0603

True North (The Shelter/
Comprehensive Human Services Inc.)

P.O. Box 1367

Columbia, MO 65205

875-1370

Interfaith Day Center

616 Park Ave.

Columbia, MO 65201

875-0826


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“If someone would have told me years ago that I would be in this position, I wouldn’t have believed them,” Jones said. “They couldn’t have convinced me.”

As a high-school senior, Jones was one of 50 promising minority students across Missouri selected to attend the Robert Knight Urban Journalism Workshop at MU.

Jones aspired to be a professional basketball player. He played point guard at Iowa Wesleyan College, where he was a 4-year letterman. He was a 2-year letterman in track, running the open 400 meters and the mile relay during his junior and senior years. He graduated with a degree in English and mass communication.

After college, Jones fell in love and became engaged. He also founded a nonprofit corporation, Blacklight Project. Its mission statement, written by Jones, reads in part: “Blacklight Project Inc. will promote positive, progressive lyrical content in the genre of contemporary music, thereby serving the arts, as well as artists, writers, musical performers and society, by demonstrating the expression of verse in its highest form.”

“Music is the universal language, and it is understood and felt by people of all races, creeds, colors and religions,” Jones said.

While living with his fiancée, Jones had a series of relationship, financial and legal problems that caused him to lose his home and all his possessions. Since then, Jones has moved in and out of Missouri several times, living with friends for short periods. He has been homeless since 2002.

Daily activities that most people take for granted pose a major challenge for a homeless person. Finding a place to shower or wash clothes, having a safe place to sleep or having enough food to eat are not guaranteed.

“When you are homeless you don’t have any stability,” Jones said.

Jones carries all of his possessions in an old, blue Adidas duffel bag: two Bibles; a black croc briefcase for job interviews and business appointments; several newspaper articles, including one about homeless blaze victims; a copy of the Columbia Tribune Extra Classifieds; pencils and pens; two folders containing the incorporation papers for Blacklight Project; disposable razors; toothpaste; toothbrush; deodorant and body spray; a pair of extra work gloves; and assorted food items including Capri Sun, raisins, toasted peanut butter sandwich cookies, oranges and apples.

On his wrist, Jones wears a gold watch encrusted with clear blue stones, a symbol of more prosperous times.

“When you become successful, your jewelry, your watch, your chain ... they speak for you,” Jones said. “It’s a reminder of where I came from.”

The cycle of homelessness is hard to break.

“Being homeless can be a vicious cycle if you lapse into depression and don’t stay positive-minded," Jones said. "It’s like a never-ending story."

Despite his education and abilities, starting over has been difficult for Jones.

“I can’t find a job,” he said. “I’m not a convicted felon, and I have a diverse, good work history.”

Jones is actively seeking employment in Columbia, but simply having a job is not enough.

“You can get a job, but how are you going to hold it when you don’t have a place to sleep at night?" Jones said. "You might be sleeping outside, and you have a week to two weeks before you get paid.”

Winters are the hardest. Finding a place to get out of the cold as early as possible is critical for survival. “The first place you want to go is some place where it’s warm,” Jones said. “No. 2, where you won’t be harassed or looked down upon or talked down upon.”

Jones spends time at the Old Armory Sports Center on Ash Street, where he can stay warm, use the computer lab or play a game of pool with friends. Bill Thompson, recreation specialist for Columbia Parks and Recreation, works at the Armory and has known Jones for many years.

“Guy is good at heart,” Thompson said. “He respects what I ask of him, and he has been trying to do some job searches at the computer lab. My prayer is that he will find his niche.”

Jones has stayed at many shelters in Columbia, but he believes the Room at the Inn at the Missouri United Methodist Church on Ninth Street might be the best in town. This is the second year the church has opened its doors as a shelter to the homeless. Started by the Rev. Keith Vessell, the shelter opened on Jan. 2 and will remain open through the end of February.

Jones said that the church facilities are clean and staff members treat the men and women who stay there with dignity and respect. Jones said he has stayed at the shelter for the past two weeks and plans to continue doing so.

Faith keeps Jones going. “I don’t know where I would be if the Lord wasn’t on my side, he said. "God, the Lord Jesus Christ, he keeps me positive, and he keeps my spirit up."

Jones also credits his mother with teaching him the most important lessons in life.

“I was not from a broken home," Jones said. "I was raised the right way: to have a conscience, do the right thing, to have morals, values, ethics, character, integrity."

Jones says there is a need for shelters such as the one Missouri United Methodist Church provides year-round, not just during the coldest months of the year.

“Even when winter is over and it warms up, a lot of homeless people are still going to be homeless," Jones said.

Vessell said the church also could use more donated blankets, more nonperishable, individually wrapped food items and more volunteers to help with the Room at the Inn.

“If you could please help in any way, shape, form or fashion, everything — anything — will help,” Jones said.

“A homeless person is not different than any other person.”

For more coverage of situational poverty in Columbia, go to http://www.voxmagazine.com/stories/2011/01/20/gimme-shelter/ for a Vox feature.


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Comments

Dave Overfelt January 21, 2011 | 8:06 a.m.

Both the Missourian and Vox articles on homelessness are terribly disappointing. It is useful to turn homelessness into a personalized story about a meaningful individual but neither story makes any effort to connect the struggles these two men are going through to the larger social dynamics and furthermore makes it seem like helping the homeless is a job for already cash strapped non-profit organizations or churches. Instead, these articles could point to the systematic destruction of the American social safety net that was meant to save people from the more destructive forces of capitalism. Or, they could discuss the 40 year stagnation of the wages of the American working class. Homelessness is not an individual problem, it is a social problem that we as a nation have chosen to worsen through national, state, and local level policies.

(Report Comment)
Ted Cazinski January 21, 2011 | 8:46 a.m.
This comment has been removed.
Jimmy Bearfield January 21, 2011 | 12:16 p.m.

Dave, the social safety net has hardly been destroyed. It just seems that way because it's strained by too many freeloaders when it should instead be rescuing only those who are in a bind through no fault of their own (e.g., cancer, severe physical handicap). For example, two people who choose to work as little as possible can choose to have a baby and qualify for nearly $600/month in WIC and other assistance, plus a Pell Grant and deeply subsidized day care -- all because they choose to be irresponsible. (True story, BTW.)

Weed out the freeloaders, and the safety net will do just fine -- and without requiring additional taxes. If you resist this kind of reform, don't be surprised when the safety net collapses altogether because responsible people refuse to keep shouldering the load by themselves.

(Report Comment)
Gregg Bush January 22, 2011 | 3:04 p.m.

"Weed out the freeloaders..."
Jimmy, you seem to make a reasonable point. What is a "freeloader"? What would a social policy look like that weeds out "freeloaders"? Then what does society do with the weeded out "freeloaders"?

(Report Comment)
Ricky Gurley January 22, 2011 | 3:47 p.m.

Gregg Bush: "Then what does society do with the weeded out "freeloaders"?"
------------------------------------------------------------

I know Gregg... Send them to IRAQ!

Ricky B. Gurley.

(Report Comment)
Juan Mendez January 22, 2011 | 4:34 p.m.

I thought Freeloaders were the politicians getting rich at the tax payers expense. Do I win a prize for getting the answer right?

(Report Comment)
Jimmy Bearfield January 22, 2011 | 5:36 p.m.

Gregg, besides the real-world example I mentioned, some others are:

* people on full or partial disability because they chose to be obese and thus lost one or more limbs

* people who choose not to save for a rainy day and thus have to go on welfare when that day comes

* people who choose both not to get health insurance and not to save for medical care and then force those who do to pick up the tab

The system could weed out these folks by forcing them to document their past few years' income and expenses when applying for assistance. For example, if you've spent years dropping $100/month on cable and another $70/month on a cell phone, and you weren't also buying health insurance during that time, you should be ineligible for Medicaid.

(Report Comment)
Derrick Fogle January 22, 2011 | 6:01 p.m.

How big would a governmental agency need to be, to do such extensive means testing?

It was the desire to means test, ostensibly to eliminate fraud, that sparked the massive administrative warfare that now consumes a third of every healthcare dollar. Getting rid of freeloaders isn't free. In the zeal to punish the unworthy, few people ever do a rational cost / benefit analysis of means testing.

It cracks me up every time I hear that the way to cut costs in government assistance programs is to have the government spend even more time, effort, and money figuring out how to assist fewer people. To that end, a very strong argument can be made against *any* government assistance. If "help for the poor" were really contained at a neighbor / community level, the knowledge of who is a "freeloader" would not require any administrative effort.

I'll give someone else a shot at pointing out the pitfalls of that.

(Report Comment)
Jimmy Bearfield January 22, 2011 | 7:05 p.m.

Derrick, the additional cost should come out of the programs' existing budgets. That might mean less money left to pay these entitlements, but so what? People should learn to depend on themselves rather than the government.

Of course, some apologists will argue that this reform would leave too many people destitute. But why wouldn't those apologists open their homes and wallets to those folks? Look at it as an opportunity to put more of their money where their mouths are.

(Report Comment)
Derrick Fogle January 22, 2011 | 7:47 p.m.

Jimmy: That idea fails to shrink the bureaucracy; it only makes it even less effective. You're arguing for *more* useless waste in government, not less. If you want to reduce expenditures, forget the means testing and just shrink the program.

As for your second point, I'm still waiting to see if others are willing to point out some possible consequences.

(Report Comment)
Jimmy Bearfield January 22, 2011 | 8:52 p.m.

How about just eliminating these programs? Then people who believe they must exist could open their homes and wallets to support those who relied on the programs. I suspect that you'd see many of the few willing to put their money where their mouths are suddenly doing an about-face and engaging in means testing: "You say you don't have enough money to pay your electric bill? But how do you always manage to afford cigarettes and go to the boat?"

In Boone County, nearly one in three children are on food stamps. The only way you get that many is when too many people selfishly have children they can't or won't support.

(Report Comment)
Gregg Bush January 22, 2011 | 9:00 p.m.

I asked three questions - and you don't owe me an answer to any of them. But I'm grateful that you humored me.

Mr. Bearfield, you've describe what a "freeloader" is (although I like Mr. Mendez's answer best), and you've described the policy that would weed out "freeloaders" (although I find valuable critique from Mr. Fogle), but only Mr. Gurley described what happens to these "freeloaders" (although I think he may be 'pulling my leg' a bit).

To sum up: a "freeloader" is someone who spends money frivolously (my words) and in order to get welfare, this "freeloader" would demonstrate budgeting to a government bureaucrat that would apply "the rules". So what happens, Mr. Bearfield, when the "freeloader" has demonstrated that he/she has improperly budgeted?

I ask these things because social policy is not always about what "should be". Nor is it about the one percent. I think it is more complex.

(Report Comment)
Derrick Fogle January 22, 2011 | 9:18 p.m.

Jimmy: It makes me wonder what your opinion on abortion, birth control, and sex education is. (sorry, haven't bothered to troll your comments to see if it's there)

I just can't resist pulling the "Think of the Children!" card. Whether or not those children were conceived or brought into this world responsibly, should they be made to suffer for their procreator's poor choices? What are the alternatives?

(Report Comment)
Jimmy Bearfield January 22, 2011 | 10:42 p.m.

Gregg, the freeloader would be declared ineligible for assistance.

Derrick, I don't think it could be any easier to get birth control than it already is. In fact, if you cant afford it, there are plenty of places that will provide it for free. If you need an abortion, PP offers it on a sliding scale.

As for children suffering for their procreator's poor choices:

1) The irresponsible, selfish procreators assume that society will simply step in rather than let the kids suffer. Put simply, the irresponsible, selfish procreators know they can tug at your heartstrings so you'll continue to be a sucker. They also know that if the reforms were imposed, enough people probably would open their homes and wallets. Either way, they're spared from the burden of being responsible.

2) Why should the children of the responsible be forced to suffer? The additional taxes that their parents pay to bail out the irresponsible could and should be used for, for example, college savings.

(Report Comment)
Derrick Fogle January 22, 2011 | 10:58 p.m.

Good enough. It still doesn't propose any kind of solution to the problem though. That's something I have trouble coming up with, too. I do actually think that getting rid of TANF and the like would provide a huge disincentive to having kids you can't take care of.

Unless you just go ahead and take care of everybody, someone is going to get hurt, and that will include "innocent" people. If you try to sort out who should and shouldn't get help, it costs money. People who don't get help can be dangerous, since they really have nothing to lose.

It's a problem that humanity has faced since it's infancy, and apparently Jesus was the only one in human history who both could, and would, just feed everybody.

(Report Comment)
Gregg Bush January 22, 2011 | 11:25 p.m.

"Gregg, the freeloader would be declared ineligible for assistance."
What or who assists those that are deemed ineligible for assistance?
What happens when those most in need of assistance are deemed ineligible for assistance?
Or who appoints those who make the decision to cut off assistance for those in most need of assistance?
Meanwhile, I don't have the expertise to manage individuals or families that are the most in need for assistance. However, I know people who have the expertise to manage and assist those who are the most in need of assistance. Don't my skilled acquaintances who are trained in managing and assisting those who are the most in need of assistance deserving of a living wage for assisting those that are in most need of assistance?
I think those skilled in assisting those most in need provide a valuable social service. It seems there could be a method for pooling of resources and skills to assist those in most need of assistance.
Finally, while the marketplace provides the most profitable solutions - I think no one should make a profit on social problems like poverty. Therefore, the marketplace is the wrong tool for dealing with poverty.

(Report Comment)
John Schultz January 23, 2011 | 9:48 a.m.

Gregg, I wouldn't necessarily disagree with your statement that the marketplace is the wrong tool to deal with poverty, but I might reword it that government is not the right tool either.

(Report Comment)
Jimmy Bearfield January 23, 2011 | 10:26 a.m.

Gregg, as I've posted multiple times in this thread, those who advocate keeping the safety net as is could open their wallets and homes to take care of those deemed ineligible for assistance. They would put their money where their mouths are, right? And in the process, would they suddenly agree to the level of scrutiny and means testing that I and many other taxpayers are advocating? I suspect that they would because they'd realize that the current free for all is unsustainable.

Clearly there are ample opportunities to cut waste and still maintain a safety net for those who need and deserve our help because their situation is no fault of our own. For example, backers of increasing the MO cigarette tax make their case partly by noting that 40 percent of Medicaid recipients smoke and that that's nearly twice the gen pop rate. Wow. Just wow. You can't afford to pay for your health care, but you can afford to smoke? That's the epitome of selfishness and irresponsibility.

Take your pick: Either reform the current system or have it eliminated entirely when responsible people refuse to support the irresponsible.

(Report Comment)
Gregg Bush January 23, 2011 | 12:42 p.m.

"...those who advocate keeping the safety net as is could open their wallets and homes to take care of those deemed ineligible for assistance."
I can't find anyone advocating for keeping the safety net "as is."
"...current free for all is unsustainable." I wouldn't characterize anything regarding homelessness as a "free for all." But we do agree that the current reality is unsustainable.
"For example, backers of increasing the MO cigarette tax make their case partly by noting that 40 percent of Medicaid recipients smoke and that that's nearly twice the gen pop rate." Horsefeathers! I think only Phillip Morris(tm) would make an argument like that.
"...when responsible people refuse to support the irresponsible." I think eating fried chicken is irresponsible - I personally haven't had any in 15 years. I think using internal combustion engines is irresponsible. Nonetheless, there are subsidies for agriculture and heavy industries. Furthermore, my good health is jeopardized by the irresponsible vehicle drivers that spew poisonous hydrocarbons into the air. My dollars for national defense go to deploying soldiers - many of whom are stationed solely for maintaining access to petroleum - another subsidy to the irresponsible.
Should hospitals fix a person who gets injured while running a red light? Should the fire department put out the fire when a house burns when the occupant accidentally leaves a candle lit? Should police track a car thief if the doors on the vehicle were left unlocked? Should rescue workers be sent when people hike in the snow?

"Put simply, the irresponsible, selfish procreators know they can tug at your heartstrings so you'll continue to be a sucker. They also know that if the reforms were imposed, enough people probably would open their homes and wallets. Either way, they're spared from the burden of being responsible." And while we're at it: I wish those neighbor kids would stay off my lawn!

(Report Comment)
Derrick Fogle January 23, 2011 | 1:32 p.m.

Does anyone have any idea what good the "safety net" does for our country? Maybe it's time to end it all, and find out.

(Report Comment)
Ricky Gurley January 23, 2011 | 1:36 p.m.

Mr Bush,

In my answer to your question, I was "pulling your leg". I was actually having a little fun at the expense of Paul Allaire.

However, military service for what someone else is calling a "freeloader" might not be such a bad idea....

Ricky Gurley.

(Report Comment)
Jimmy Bearfield January 23, 2011 | 1:53 p.m.

@ Gregg:

"I can't find anyone advocating for keeping the safety net 'as is.'"

Plenty of people -- both here and on the Tribune's site, to name just two places -- argue that it would cost more than it's worth to, for example, drug test welfare applicants and recipients.

"Horsefeathers! I think only Phillip Morris(tm) would make an argument like that."

Nope. See, for example, Sen. Schaefer's op-ed at www.columbiatribune.com/news/2011/jan/23....

"Should hospitals fix a person who gets injured while running a red light? Should the fire department put out the fire when a house burns when the occupant accidentally leaves a candle lit? Should police track a car thief if the doors on the vehicle were left unlocked? Should rescue workers be sent when people hike in the snow?"

Sure, but with a few key qualifications. For example, the red-light runner should get care only if he or she has been buying health insurance or, if not, is forced to pay the bill later on. The hikers should get a bill if, for example, signage warned them that they were heading into avalanche territory.

(Report Comment)
Paul Allaire January 23, 2011 | 2:28 p.m.

Jimmy Bearfield says...

"Derrick, I don't think it could be any easier to get birth control than it already is. In fact, if you cant afford it, there are plenty of places that will provide it for free. If you need an abortion, PP offers it on a sliding scale."

Your advocacy of that choice will put you severely at odds with most anyone here who might have supported your argument.

(Report Comment)
Jimmy Bearfield January 23, 2011 | 3:02 p.m.

Hopping up on the table at PP is a little late to suddenly be practicing responsibility, but it's better than having a child you can't or won't support and won't put up for adoption.

(Report Comment)
Gregg Bush January 23, 2011 | 3:21 p.m.

I wish you were more serious. You change the subject from "no one wants reform" to resistance to "drug test welfare applicants and recipients." Those are two separate things. Nobody here argued that there doesn't need to be reforms.

However, I was mistaken regarding your characterization of the cigarette tax. I thought you were referencing resisters of taxing cigarettes because it would be an unfair burden on the poor. I was wrong. Nonetheless, I saw signs at convenience stores sponsored by Phillip Morris against the last round of cigarette taxes.

While I think that we, as a civilization, don't live up to our potential either as individuals or collectively, the world you want is grotesquely invasive. You want someone to police finances ("...forcing them to document their past few years' income and expenses when applying for assistance."), police reproduction ("...too many people selfishly have children they can't or won't support."), police the injured ("...the red-light runner should get care only if..." - Please fill out this paperwork with your mangled hand), police hiking signs (Please come rescue us, the sign was covered with snow so we couldn't see it).

Well, Mr. Bearfield - stop paying your taxes. Really stick it to those "freeloaders". Look at it as an opportunity to put your money where your mouth is. Or does that only sound harsh when it's directed toward you?
I'll stay off your lawn.

(Report Comment)
Derrick Fogle January 23, 2011 | 3:33 p.m.

And how sad is it, that Jimmy's rational approach is seen as an outlier to general sentiment?

The classic perceived liberal viewpoint is that they want to pay off the "freeloaders" to keep them complacent. The classic perceived conservative viewpoint is preferring to just keep guard against freeloaders with a shotgun.

Something that might get lost in all this, is that being a freeloader isn't really that easy. To get TANF, food stamps, and other assistance, you've got to fill out mounds of paperwork, meet with social workers, wait in long lines, jump through small fiery hoops held at great heights, etc. There are already quite a few means testing rules in place. It actually takes work to prove you qualify, and keep re-qualifying.

Face it: non-senior welfare is a failed policy, just like the drug war. Giving poor people money supports businesses like Wal-Mart, and keeps the masses from looting and rioting, but it fails to solve any problems that lead to poverty. It just perpetuates them.

(Report Comment)
Jimmy Bearfield January 23, 2011 | 9:57 p.m.

Gregg, you'll be happy to know that I've already reduced my workload to minimize my taxes. And if the insurance mandate is still in place come 2014, I'll be cutting back even further so that you'll be forced to pay for my insurance. If you can't beat 'em, join 'em.

(Report Comment)

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