Searching for home

Tuesday, December 16, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 12:33 p.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008

John Hauck Von Braun shares a room with 10 other men. He sleeps in a bed that is a foot shorter than his 6-foot-7-inch frame. He has a curfew at night, and his phone calls are limited.

But the 55-year-old could not be more thankful for his place of residency, New Life Evangelical Center. “My life would probably be over if it wasn’t for this shelter,” he said.

Von Braun has been homeless for more than 25 years and has been in Columbia for about three months. He says his troubles started in 1975 after his fiancée, who was four months pregnant with his son, crashed her car, killing her and their unborn child.

“I am the victim of a love affair with an alcoholic woman,” he said.

After the accident, Von Braun had a nervous breakdown and sank into a life of severe depression. “It is very possible to lose your mind, goals and self-respect in an instant,” he said.

In addition to battling mental disabilities, he also struggles with physical problems. Because Von Braun smokes three packs of cigarettes a day, he has bronchitis. He also does not have any teeth and struggles with chewing. He has bad vision, and he limps on an injured leg after being hit by a car.

The Vietnam veteran has traveled the world, most recently moving from California to Columbia. He spends his days riding the city bus, going from shelter to shelter to eat meals, trying to find medical assistance for his health ailments and looking for work.

Von Braun has called New Life Evangelical Center his occasional home for the past two months and has no plans to move out of Columbia any time soon.

“This place has love in it,” he said. “This is a community that helps out their neighbors.”

GROUP: New Life Evangelical Center

SUMMARY: New Life Evangelical Center is a Christian-based ministry center that provides shelter and assistance to the needy in and around Columbia. The center has a free store, food pantry and homeless shelter. The shelter accepts clothing, food, toys, household items and monetary donations.

CONTACT: Keith Pryor, director, at 875-0603.

WISH: John Hauck Von Braun would like a new set of dentures so he can chew his food and smile more.

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