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In this 10-part local series, KSMU News Director Jennifer Moore shared the stories of the unsheltered homeless residents of Springfield, Missouri as their lives were upended by the coronavirus pandemic. Drawing from dozens of interviews, "Unsheltered" looked at shelter capacity, hygiene, food, mental health, coronavirus prevention, unique risks to women and transgender residents, employment disruptions, policy on homeless camps, local CARES Act expenditures and how other communities were using coronavirus relief funds to shelter their homeless.

Get A Job, You Say? 3 Homeless Men Look For Work In Springfield Mid-Pandemic

Jennifer Moore

“Get a job, you lazy bum!”  That phrase—or a colorful variation of it—is something many homeless people in Springfield have heard before.

So for this segment, we’re going to hear from three men who are trying to do just that:  get a job...while experiencing homelessness during a pandemic.

Struggle to obtain official documents

The first person is 21-year-old River Herron. On the night before Thanksgiving, he was huddled under a blanket with a friend outside a building downtown.

Credit Jennifer Moore / KSMU
River Herron, right, waited for a ride in downtown Springfield the night before Thanksgiving.

"I had a job, but I got fired and I tried getting it back," Herron said.

He says most recently he worked as a tire tech at an auto shop in Springfield.

Herron says he’s had trouble getting his official documents, like a birth certificate—that’s a challenge many homeless people face routinely, and it's been exacerbated by the pandemic.

"And the Social Security office. I can't even get my Social Security card," he said.

With a felony, employment and housing are uphill battles

On that same night, Preston Dye, was planning to sleep in a parking garage with a few others.

Originally from southeast Missouri, he says he's a convicted felon—a big strike against him where employment and housing are concerned. Still, he’s used to working odd jobs in housing, restaurants and landscaping.

And the pandemic quickly dried up opportunities for him, he said.

"My work was hard before the pandemic, but with it now I ain't got no jobs, period, until this really gets over," Dye said.

When you show up to a new job with all of your belongings

And William Still is a 48-year-old Army veteran who says he’s been homeless for over a year.

“I've spent 20 years cleaning carpets, repairing carpets,” Still said.

He says his driver’s license has been suspended because he failed to pay child support.

"I do not have a driver's license. At this point without a driver's license, you can't get a job like that. They want you to be able to take a vehicle and go do these jobs," Still said.

On the day I met him, he was at the only facility in Springfield that offers a free, walk-in shower to the unsheltered homeless, the Veterans Coming Home center.  He’s trying to stay as neat and tidy as possible in case he gets an interview, he said.

"It's just kind of hard when they hire you for a job and you show up with everything you own. They wonder why 

Credit Jennifer Moore / KSMU
William Still waits for the lone shower used by hundreds of homeless residents at the Veterans Coming Home center in Springfield, Missouri.

you're bringing all this stuff with you. Because you can't leave it anywhere, because people will steal it," Still said.

And his belongings include two sleeping bags and three backpacks, which contain his clothes and hygiene items.

Jobs center provides free technology, Zoom help for homeless

The Missouri Jobs Center is a government-funded agency that helps all residents—homeless or not—find and keep employment.  Spokeswoman Katherine Trombetta says homeless residents can access free technology at their East Sunshine location or a branch at The Fairbanks, a hub for low-income residents in north Springfield.

People can get free resume help, and also get set up with a Zoom call job interview at either location, she said.

Because of the pandemic, the Missouri Jobs Center is offering its services by appointments only right now. And participants will need to be screened with COVID-related questions, Trombetta said. 

The number for the main branch at 2900 E. Sunshine Street is 887-4343 and the job center at The Fairbanks, a hub for low-income residents can be reached at 834-6660.

There are city bus stops near both of those locations.

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