SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – According to a survey of a portion of Springfield’s homeless population, 44% of homeless people became homeless because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Nonprofit outreach and church The Connecting Grounds shared the numbers in a recent report.

One of those people is Leslie Sample.

“I lived in Branson, Missouri, and I was a security guard for two extended stay motels for about a year,” Sample said. “COVID hit and shut Branson down pretty much. I lost my employment, and I ended up on the streets.”

Sample said adjusting to the new life has taken a mental toll.

“Anxiety, depression, thoughts running through your head. You know, what’s tomorrow going to bring?” Sample said. “You know, and that personally was the first time I’ve been scared.”

As of now, he’s at the Salvation Army Harbor House, a place he never envisioned he’d be when he lost both his home and job two years ago.

“When you are homeless and you feel like you have nowhere else to turn, the world can seem really overwhelming,” Jeff Smith with the Salvation Army said. “We’re here to kind of provide some stability, some perspective, and connect individuals to counseling and needed services.”

Sample said one of the struggles he, like many others on the streets faced after becoming homeless, was the feeling of giving up, which is something he said he almost did.

“Before coming here, I’ve really wanted to end my life,” Sample said. “I gave it one more shot. It was the lowest I’ve ever been, the lowest you can go.”

While he’s slowly getting back to his pre-pandemic life, Sample’s message to anyone struggling is simple.

“Don’t give up and yeah, you know, just hang in there,” he said. “Stay focused and don’t give up, don’t give up, because there is help out there. You got to make yourself do it.”