SPRINGFIELD, Mo.– It’s pretty hard for Colton Hughes to talk about his past.
“I lived in a great house. My mom did the best she could,” Hughes says.
“I was seventeen; I didn’t really care at that point. Invincible or whatever.”
But that makes sense… I mean after all, he is now a happily married man, and he’s holding down two jobs– both cook positions at two local restaurants. All that to say: his future is bright.
“I left home at like 17,” he says.
But that just makes it all that much harder to relive those dark years he spent as a homeless teenager.
“I was just like ‘I’m tired of these rules. I just want to do my own thing.’,” he recalls.
But you see, Colton isn’t alone in that quest for freedom. In fact, that intolerance for the rules has been one of the biggest contributors to what has now become a national problem with homelessness for not just years, but decades.
“Roger Miller has this incredibly popular song in the late sixties called King of the Road,” says Randy McCoy.
McCoy is the Director of Housing at Springfield’s the Kitchen.
“It sort of idealizes this life style of ‘oh I don’t have any responsibilities,” he says.
According to McCoy, by the 1960’s there was a national obsession with this sort of free-roaming-tramp type of lifestyle.
“I just travel around. Life is all fun and games,” he says.
Fast forward a couple decades– to the 1980’s– and those tramps are met by what McCoy calls a perfect storm.
“So you have a number of men who have returned from Vietnam,” McCoy explains. “There are very few if any resources for them to access for long term care. You have a fairly substantial recession. And with that plus everything else it makes it very hard to reintegrate back into society and a normal life.”
Eventually what was once considered a life choice made by the care free wanderer, becomes a life only lived by those with nowhere to go.
People like Colton.
“I was sleeping in tunnels,” he says. “I used to crawl in there. It’d be pitch black.”
But let’s not forget that today; Colton is living a healthy productive life.
“I haven’t been homeless in years,” he says.
He’s even reformed some of the relationships he lost years ago.
“I’m a mama’s boy. I take her out to lunch every time I get my check,” he says.