By Chandler Tatgenhorst & Taylor Vance, Ozarks News Journal
“I am a veteran of the United States Marine Corp.”
Shawn Fenson is one of the many homeless veterans living on the streets of Springfield.
“It is what it is, I’ve been out here for a long time, since I was 14 years old and I’m 35 today,” said Fenson.
He first experimented with drugs and alcohol at the age of 14.
He also became homeless at the age of 14.
“if your best friend in your life, maybe your older sister says lets read this book together. I’m 14 years old and I get drunk for the first time in my life with the person who taught me to read my first book,” said Fenson.
“Crack cocaine, meth, marijuana, and that was prior to the military,” said Fenson.
At the age of 17, Shawn made a personal decision to join the Marine Corp.
“The Marine Corps was a roundabout way of getting me out of where I lived and my past so I joined,” said Fenson.
Shawn calls it was one of the best decisions he’s ever made.
“You know what the Marine Corp has taught me? You already got something inside yourself, you just have to take it, bring it out, and you make it blossom and that’s what they did,” said Fenson.
“People misjudge us and think we are an inconvenience.”
Unfortunately Shawn’s military career ended abruptly. When he got word he might be a father, he made an impulsive decision that landed him behind bars.
Now, Shawn does what he has to do to provide for himself and his family day by day.
“Ya know its dumpster diving this time of the year, nah. The winter time when it’s cold 40 degrees or below a dumpster is a friend of mine,” said Fenson.
“I’ve slept in so many different places that most people wouldn’t even think of,” said Fenson.
“I slept in abandoned vehicles, abandoned houses, as a matter of fact if I was tired enough and all you went away, I’d sleep right here,” said Fenson.
Shawn is married and has two sons. Shawn is currently unemployed and when we asked him if he was looking for employment his answer was no.
“my drug of choice is alcohol, that’s my gateway,” said Fenson.
“Before I had an addiction, I had a thinking problem…. Methamphetamine, crack cocaine, coke, K2, weed, and K2 is no different than smoking PCP. I smoked it, I blacked out three times,” said Fenson.
During our time with Shawn, it was apparent from his actions that he was intoxicated and was battling addiction.
“I’ve drank today (how much have you had to drink today?) a pint of vodka and two four lokos,” said Fenson.
“The alcohol I drank today, the pint I bought the four lokos I stole,” said Fenson.
While Shawn continues to battle his addictions, he says he will not give up.
According to the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Center, one in eight troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan from 2006-2008 were referred to counseling for alcohol problems.
Kevin Schierhold, another homeless veteran we talked to, is on a different track.
He sat down to talk to us after a long day of work.
He is saving money to move his girlfriend to Springfield and start a life with her.
“it’s just doing temporary service, like tomorrow I’m not working. It’s just labor work toting five gallon buckets up the hillside,” said Schierhold.
Kevin moved to the area a few weeks ago after making the decision to try to get his life on track. He says his childhood also led him to join the military.
“parents got divorced when I was twelve. I got put into foster homes. When I turned 17 they said I was a legal adult you gotta fend for yourself so I joined the military.,” said Schierhold.
Kevin says it was the inspiration of a family member that led him to military service.
“I was young I was only 17 when I went in and I only did it to tick my dad off and to respect my grandpa. He was in WWII and lost his brother and wife in Pearl Harbor so it was out of respect for him,” said Schierhold.
Unfortunately Kevin’s temper and urge to fight got him kicked out of the Navy.
“I got in a little bit of trouble. I assaulted an officer in the club. We were in plain clothes so I didn’t know he was in an officer. We got into a fight and I got in trouble for it,” said Schierhold.
Working odd jobs after his life in the military eventually led Kevin to drug abuse.
“When I was doing plumbing work with a friend of mine, seeing him doing it curiosity got the best of me and once you’re hooked you’re hooked.,” said Schierhold.
Kevin says he has been clean of all drugs and alcohol for a while now and has no plans of using them in the future.
He is currently staying at Victory Square where all alcohol and drug abuse is prohibited.
The homeless veteran population around the United States is on the decline, but in Springfield it’s steadily been on the rise since 2007. The reasons for homelessness vary. However, with Shawn and Kevin, the underlying issue is drug and alcohol abuse before and after their time in the military. An issue not uncommon for those in their situation.