Homelessness: The person behind the label

Written by Muleskinner Staff

Jon Wetzel spent four years homeless in the Warrensburg area, but now lives in a trailer with a friend.
Jon Wetzel spent four years homeless in the Warrensburg area, but now lives in a trailer with a friend.

By KRISTIN GALLAGHER
(WARRENSBURG, Mo., digitalBURG)

 Part Three: Jon Wetzel – Growing up

Editor’s Note: This is the third story in a six-part series that offers a glimpse into the lives of the homeless in our community.
 
Jon Wetzel spent four years of his life homeless in Warrensburg. Moving from place to place, Jon spent most of his time trying to find a somewhere safe to sleep.
With the help of some friends, Jon was able to make it through being homeless and has even established a stable place to live.
But Jon’s story extends far back before his time here in Warrensburg.
Jon was born in Nevada, Mo., but spent his childhood in Brookfield, Mo., with the family that adopted him.
“I was adopted when I was 3-years-old,” he said. “(My adoptive family) said my real mom smoked crack.”
Jon said he didn’t mind his adoptive family, although his mother was very strict.
“My mom used to slap me and call me stupid and retarded all the time,” he said.
But since Jon’s father was a preacher, Jon was forced to spend most of his time with his mother at home.
“I liked to play outside with my siblings,” he said.
Jon has two older sisters and one younger one.
In school, Jon kept to himself.
“I was a loser in school,” he said, “I kept quiet mostly.”
Although he said he was not very good at sports, they were still Jon’s favorite part of school.  He ran track and managed the school basketball team.
“I really liked to play basketball,” Jon said. “But I wasn’t good enough to make the team.”
Still, like many elementary students, his favorite time of the year was summer.
“It’s warm,” he said. “And I didn’t have to go to school.”
With a preacher as a father, Jon inevitably spent a lot of time in the church.
“I was in church every Sunday,” he said. “It was OK…I don’t go now though. I sleep in most of the time.”
In fact, even with the limited time he had with his father, Jon says he still prefers to spend time with him rather than his mother. In the ninth grade, Jon and his father moved to Warrensburg when his parents separated.
“I liked living with my dad,” he said. “But I didn’t like high school here much.”
By the 10th grade, Jon dropped out of high school.
“They tried to give me an ISS for tardiness,” he said. “I didn’t like it. So I quit.”
Jon said it was at this time when his father moved out.
“My dad went to go stay with another guy,” he said. “And he left me here…I don’t know why he did it, and I never asked him why.”
Jon stayed with a lady he knew through his father for a while until she kicked him out at age 17. And he was homeless.
“I was surprised when my father left me, but I wasn’t mad,” Jon said. “I didn’t even tell my mom it happened. I think she knows now though.”
From age 17 to 21, Jon was homeless in the Warrensburg area. He pushed on from place to place, staying on friends’ couches or in the backs of their trucks.
“Once I went to an after-party and slept on the couch they had on their porch,” he said. “They never said anything to me. But I woke up not knowing where I was.”
Now Jon lives in a mobile home right down the road from one of the pickup trucks in which he used to sleep. He stays with one of his friends who let him move in about a year ago.
“One of my other friends just asked him if I could move in,” he said. “I like having a roof over my head the most…and my roommate is nice.”
Despite what may seem like a troubled past, Jon does not look back on his life with spite.
“I still talk to my dad and my mom from time to time,” he said.
Even after being abused, abandoned and left without a home, Jon remembers his past as exactly that – the past.
“My childhood was OK,” he said. “I didn’t mind it.”