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For One Homeless Man, Hope Connection Serves a Purpose

http://ozarkspub.vo.llnwd.net/o37/KSMU/audio/mp3/one-homeless-man-hope-connection-serves-purpose_25501.mp3

On Wednesday, over 150 volunteers from area organizations, universities, and faith communities welcomed over 250 homeless people at the Expo Center downtown, offering them a direct connection with over 35 services including legal, housing, and education. The event, known as “Hope Connection,” serves as a way to help change the lives of the homeless, offering immediate access to services that would otherwise take months. KSMU’s Samuel Crowe was at the expo center and met one homeless man.

[SOUND: Bailey talking at housing booth]

Kenneth Bailey, known as “Wulf” amongst his peers, is 60 years old. He's been homeless for about five and a half years, and spends his days reading books and watching the Christian television channel at the Veterans Center in Springfield. Bailey is here at Hope Connection to find information on housing and dental work, and to receive a new pair of reading glasses. Soon after arriving at the Expo Center, Bailey strolls over to the housing section, where volunteers encourage him to fill out applications for public housing. Bailey states his frustration over the prospect of not being able to afford any housing, even if he can survive the long waiting list.

“I’ve got no income, I can’t get a job, I’m too old. They tell me that, but they don’t give me that directly, they tell me ‘You’re over qualified.’ That tells me that I’m too old, and they’re not going to give me the job anyway. What happens with me? I get all dead jobs that nobody else wants to do. No, I ain’t going that way,” Bailey said.

Bailey was born in Orange, Texas in 1951. He lost his mother at the age of five, and soon thereafter, his father skipped town. He and his younger brother were raised by their grandmother until Bailey dropped out of high school at the age of 17. At the age of 19 he joined the Marine Corps, where he was a field cook in Vietnam for 11 and a half months.

Upon his return to the U.S., Bailey says he, like many other Vietnam vets, was viewed as a “baby killer,” referencing the My Lai massacre in 1968. He says life’s been getting harder ever since, holding odd jobs working at salvage yards, as a sanitary technician, and as a janitor. In 1998, 400 lbs. of iron smashed his right foot in a work related injury, and he’s been collecting disability ever since. He came to the Ozarks two and a half years ago in search of a Branson music career that never flourished. Bailey says he doesn’t mind being homeless though; in fact, he chooses to be.

BAILEY: “I’m writing a book, and I need to get firsthand information, so that’s actually why I’m out here right now.”

CROWE: “What’s your book about?”

BAILEY: “The homeless situation in various parts of the country, in the different states, cities, counties. I’m choosing to stay homeless at the moment for the sake of books, so I can get firsthand information on it.”

[SOUND: pouring coffee, opening sugar packet]

As Bailey sips on a complimentary cup of coffee, he says he views himself as a resource of information for other homeless people in Springfield, and takes pride in helping them. But Bailey isn’t pleased with the way local officials are dealing with area homelessness. He’s unhappy with denied attempts to preserve an acre of city property for a homeless community.

“The rich people, like city council, they’re sitting back and hoping the situation is going to go away, but I’m sorry it’s not. It’s going to get worse than it is, and I can see that coming,” Bailey said.

For their part, City Council has recently relaxed zoning ordinances to allow churches to temporarily act as homeless shelters as needed.

[SOUND: Bailey trying on glasses]

At this Hope Connection event, Bailey tries on a new pair of reading glasses. Despite this frustration, Bailey describes Hope Connection as marvelous, and sees it as a major stepping stone for homeless people like himself to get their lives back on track. In the near future, Bailey says he will spend many cold evenings at local churches, staying warm amidst the winter freeze, and contemplating a move to southern Louisiana, where he has family. But for now, Bailey hopes his new glasses will someday be used to read his own tale of a homeless life in the Ozarks. For KSMU News, I’m Samuel Crowe.