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Homelessness in the Ozarks: Life at the Missouri Hotel

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http://ozarkspub.vo.llnwd.net/o37/KSMU/audio/mp3/homelessness-ozarks-life-missouri-hotel_57229.mp3

It’s not ideal living conditions—tiny rooms with the bare basics:  a desk, a chair, a bed and a dresser, an old building, lots of other people living in close quarters, noise and sometimes shared bathrooms—but it’s a place to call home, at least temporarily, for around 200 people who otherwise would be homeless.  They consist of families, single females, single dads with kids, couples—people working to get their lives back on track and to get back on their feet.  Rachel Hale is currently one of the residents at the Missouri Hotel on Commercial Street.

And she’s happy to be there—she stayed at the shelter a few years ago for about eight months and liked it.  She can catch a bus nearby to get around Springfield.

She’s been at the Missouri Hotel this time for a year and a half.  She came here from the Chicago area of Illinois where she’d been unemployed and barely scraping by for more than three years.  She wanted to stay at the shelter here even though she has family in Springfield because she says she didn’t want to be a burden to them…

"And one of my family members heard about the place, and we looked into it.  It sounded feasible and came to it," she said.

Hale has kids here—two daughters and a son, nieces and nephews, a sister and her mom.

She says it’s helped having family nearby as she struggles to look for part-time work and obtain social security benefits.

Before she became unemployed, she worked for a decade as a housekeeper in a nursing home…

"They didn't let me go.  I had some family difficulties, some personal family difficulties, and I thought moving out of the area would help because it's gang-ridden and stuff like that, and it has helped," she said.

That’s when she came back to Springfield the first time, but when she returned to Illinois, she couldn’t find work.  So, she decided to again return to Springfield.  And she’s ok with staying at a shelter where she says the staff takes good care of her…

"I have high blood pressure, and they help you monitor your health, and they feed you, give you counseling, they're a good listening ear, and you make a lot of friends among the other residents," she said.

She says there’s a bond between them because of their similar life experiences…

"I have had friends here that have been out on the streets living in their cars.  I've had friends that's been out in the elements themselves," she said.

There was a time, she says, when she and one of her daughters had to sleep in their car.  At other times, family members have offered up a room or a couch.  But Hale prefers not to put people out.

She’s already completed the classes she’s required to take during the typically two-year-long stay at the Missouri Hotel.

According to Hale, her outgoing, friendly personality has helped her adjust to life there…

"In fact, a lot of the kids call me grandma around here so," she said.

Hale says at her age—she’s 61—it’s difficult to find work, and she has arthritis, which will allow her to work only part-time.  But she says she’s not afraid of hard work…

"I like to have my stuff done right.  I don't like--I'm not a fast-paced person, but I do do my job like it should be done.  The ten years I worked in a nursing home they relied on me mainly as a housekeeper which meant I was the last one that saw the patients and sometimes the one the patients would relax around, and I saw things that the nurses might not have been able to see because the patients wouldn't tell 'em," she said.

She hopes to hear soon whether or not she can start drawing social security benefits.

She keeps busy at the MO Hotel by drawing and working on arts and crafts projects, which she shares with the other residents.

And she has hopes for the future…

"To be self-sufficient eventually. I'm getting my social security, I'm just waiting on the decision now, and I'm looking to--I want to be self-sufficient, able to take care of myself with very little help from others," she said.

Not that she doesn’t want the help, she says--she just wants to be able to make her own decisions as long as she can.

Theresa Oglesby is coordinator of resident services at the MO Hotel and is impressed with Hale and the progress she’s made…

"Rachel is really making some good progress.  She's focused, you know, working on the things she needs to work on to be able to move into the community and be successful," she said.

It would be natural for anyone who’s been through as many challenges as Hale has to become defeated or bitter.  But Hale manages to sees the good in any situation…

"With every challenging situation I've had, I know that eventually that I'll come out of it.  And I have a strong faith in my God, and I believe that he's there for me for everything and anything," she said.

That’s Rachel Hale, a resident of the Missouri Hotel in Springfield. 

For KSMU, I’m Michele Skalicky.