By KRISTIN GALLAGHER
(WARRENSBURG, Mo., digitalBURG)
Part Six: Homeless in Warrensburg
Editor’s Note: This is the final story in a six-part series that offers a glimpse into the lives of the homeless in our community.
With his Army days behind him, Teddy Bear attempted to begin his new life in Warrensburg.
His one-year tour in Afghanistan left him emotionally and physically exhausted and left him struggling to cope with his current reality.
“It was time for fireworks in town, and the explosions made me very jumpy,” he said. “I went to visit my family – my brother, my niece and nephew. And I saw my nephew with a remote control and tackled him in the hallway. It looked exactly like a detonator.”
Teddy’s outburst with his nephew alarmed his sister-in-law, who decided it was best if Teddy stayed away from his family.
“I rented a cheap apartment and stayed there and secluded myself for almost a year,” Teddy said. “I rarely saw my brother, niece or nephew.”
But it was his niece and nephew’s love for their uncle that pushed Teddy to go out and look for a job.
“They pulled me out of my rut,” he said.
In 2005, Teddy obtained a job at Country Kitchen as a cook, and eventually ended up as a dishwasher.
“Someone left a unique gift on their plate and I flipped my lid,” he said.
The fake feces was not funny to Teddy, whose outburst of yelling and throwing dishes cost him his job.
“It was probably just a gag, but I was fired over it,” he said.
Teddy said after that he began working at Copper Coyote as a full-time prep cook and was there for six months.
“It was better,” he said. “No one bothered me there.”
But in 2006, he went to work for Swisher, the lawn mower company in Warrensburg.
“I worked my butt off and knew my own ability there,” he said. “It was a good job with decent pay.”
However, Teddy was forced to leave his job in 2009 to take care of his mother after her double bypass heart surgery. He went to Virginia Beach where she lived.
“I saved up some money and left to stay with her,” he said. “I had to stay with her 24-hours-a-day for a while because she couldn’t do anything on her own.”
Teddy says even after his mother recovered, he could have stayed with her and had a home, but he and his stepfather did not get along.
So, he left his mother’s house, stayed in Virginia to try to get a job, and even tried to go to college.
“But it didn’t work,” he said. “I was homeless and trying and go to college. It couldn’t work.”
Instead, Teddy invested his money in a tent, and that is where he stayed for some time on balmy Virginia Beach.
But Teddy wanted to be close to his niece and nephew. Two years later, in September 2011, Teddy found his way back to Warrensburg to be close to his brother and family again.
With his tent in tow, he set up camp in the woods near Big Brothers Big Sisters of Johnson County. It wasn’t long until he ran into Pastor Joel Kurz, who regularly helps the homeless in the Warrensburg area. And Teddy found a new direction in his life.
Teddy began working with Kurz and the Johnson County Help group to set up a homeless shelter in town.
“It was the first time I started to do something to help someone other than my mother,” he said. “I started having a life I could enjoy again. “
The first shelter did not last long before it was on a temporary lease. Teddy is working with Kurz and the group to get another shelter up and running in the former Red Cross building on Emerson Street.
“I love being a person that matters,” he said.
Teddy said he feels like a normal person living a normal life. He is in the process of claiming disability and trying to get into some housing for wounded and homeless veterans in the area.
“It won’t technically be my own place,” he said. “But it will be a place to stay. And I don’t need much. I don’t want much.”
In the meantime, Teddy is still forced to face the stigmas of being a homeless person.
“People think homeless people are lazy and refuse to do anything for themselves,” he said. “Or, that we are drunks and druggies. But the truth is, most homeless people cannot even afford drugs.”
Teddy walks across town for every housing appointment he has just so no one will have to take him. He has a dream of acquiring his own money and traveling across country.
“I would love to get an RV one day,” he said. “And just live in that and travel. Then I would fly my girlfriend here and marry her.”
Until then, Teddy will continue to interact with her online. He will continue to walk to the local library every day, computer and accessories in hand, and compete in online gaming.
And Teddy says he will continue his efforts within the community to help others who are homeless.
Teddy said he hopes that when somebody hears the story of his life that they will attempt to understand other people before passing judgment.
“I want people to get rid of their stigmas and remember what it is really like to have a dream,” he said. “And the only thing I can really hope is to be understood.”