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Faces of the homeless: Inside homeless camp

November 10, 2011|by Sara Forhetz, KY3 News

SPRINGFIELD, Mo.--  It's hard to imagine life without a home, but for countless people in and around Springfield, that's where they find themselves.

A Springfield couple believes it's their calling to change that.
   
At the MO Hotel homeless shelter it's full, and it has been for at least 2.5 years.  There are hundreds who who want to sleep in those warm beds, but the waiting list has 280 people on it on average.

The sad reality is many people live from paycheck to paycheck, and they are just one mishap away from being homeless.

It's tough to say just how many people call these woods home.  But it's enough to create a beaten down path.

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"There are a lot of homeless people out there, I'm just one," said Mary Wray.  She comes and goes from this place that's become her home.

"It's hard, but like I said I try to make a bad situation into this..."

Wray lost her husband to cancer 4-years ago.  She says she couldn't find a job after his death.. and quickly became homeless.  She's been in these woods ever since. 

Wray asked we not say her exact location, because many other homeless set up camp next to her.  The hardest part, Mary says, is knowing winter is coming.

"So what you see is what you have, right?  Yeah."

She's hoping to add to it by saving every penny she can scrape together.

"I'm trying to get ready for this winter, it's about 65 dollars, they got at Walmart tent heaters, 58 with tax and everything about 65."

She has her shoes, a few articles of clothing, and her big bag of cat food.

"That's the only thing I really got left is my animals.  I've got kids they don't care.. my animals love me unconditionally," Mary said.  Mary's cats are hiding from our camera, but what our cameras did catch is something extraordinary.

"Our job is to show them love, don't judge them, don't scold them."

It's the heart of Dennis and Becky Coad.

"Mary this is what I have for you today-of course we always make burritos.  This is what I do thru the week, I make burritos and I start handing them out.  Got you some more water.  You told me you liked this stuff so I brought that, don't you.  Clam chowder.  Brought you some chocolate sweets," said Dennis.

"He's the guardian angel and his wife."

Dennis says he can't NOT help.  He believes it's why he's on this earth.  He makes his rounds into alleys in town, into the woods and into any homeless camp he can find.

"We just gotta do it... it's just planted on our heart and we cannot stop," explained Dennis.

What he gets, he gives.

"Dennis brings us food when he has it..  sometimes he runs short, ya know," Mary said.  And he gives more than just bread alone.

"You have to put hope in somebody before they'll change.  You can't expect somebody to change and then get hope, that's what society really needs to know.  A lot of these people have been beat up so badly."

Dennis knows from experience.  He, too, was homeless for many years after spending a decade behind bars.

"It was rough.  I was an alcoholic and I was a heroine addict at that time, I was determined to make it.  Someone came to my life like I'm coming to these people... and someone pumped hope back into me.  And I got that hope and I got sober.  I just wanna do what other people have done for me."

What he wants the world to know is one person can change a life-- and not everyone on the street is a lost cause.

"Believe me that is a blessing!" exclaimed Mary.    

Beyond Mary's camp, Dennis says it's too dangerous for us to go.  He's been there, trying to give hope to those folks, too.

If he and his wife aren't out wandering, you'll find them at the "Veterans Coming Home Center," as it's called, near downtown Springfield.

"Becky and I are here, because we love every single one of yall.  Yall may not believe that... but we do, we love you."

More than 100 line up here on a daily basis.  Sometimes they enjoy a hot meal, a cold drink, and always chatting with others who are homeless.

Dennis and Becky have no plans to stop what they call the Lord's work, ever.

"They showed me that God loved me and that's when I sat my alcohol down and that's when I sat my drugs down and that's when I stopped 20 years ago," Dennis said.

"It's an adventure.  It's a journey.  It's our plan, we know it's our plan and it's our journey, and each time we go out we expect something good to happen and it does."

Dennis is living proof that not all who wander are lost.

If you want to help Dennis and Becky, you can.  They could use donations of all the basics, toilet paper, tents, etc.  You can track their journey on facebook.  Just look up Dennis Coad of Clever.  Also, if you want to make a monetary donations, you can mail a check to "Crosswalk Journey," P.O. Box 1486, Springfield, MO, 65801. 

A community group did a homeless count about 4 months ago, it showed the number of people homeless right now is greater than in last decade at least-- and the imminent risk of becoming homeless is the greatest now... The primary reason homeless gave-- loss of income.

Also, sadly, the count showed an increase in homelessness among young people, ages 17 to 22.  Many younger folks reported they had aged out of the foster care system, and are now on the streets.
 

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