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‘I Wish I Could Spend the Rest of My Life in a Hospital, Because at Least People Care’

Robert Nickles wears a grey sweatshirt and has a medium gray beard. He also has on a black Mizzou ball cap and looks into the camera.
Jonah McKeown

Robert Nickles lives in Columbia. He was recently diagnosed with lung cancer and has undergone numerous medical procedures throughout his life - including a colostomy. But there’s a major barrier standing between Robert and a healthy existence: Robert is homeless.

In his own words, he has lived a life that “most people wouldn’t understand.” Robert spoke with KBIA’s Jonah McKeown about the stigma surrounding homelessness and about the barriers he faces getting healthcare.

Missouri Health Talks gathers Missourians’ stories of access to healthcare in their own words. You can view more conversations at missourihealthtalks.org

Robert Nickles: I expect nobody to feel sorry for me, only to respect me. Respect me for who I am and what I am. Don't kick me when I'm down.

Have you ever thought about how demeaning it is to have to sit here and ask people for change? To ask people for help?

I don't want to hurt my family, I don't want to hurt nobody. I just want a life. And the life right now that I got - sucks. I don't fear nothing other than not being loved, not being cared about. I mean nothing to nobody. Does anybody understand the way that feels?

I just want people to understand that being homeless don't mean - it don't mean that I'm below you. It just means [there are] financial reasons I can't afford a home. I have no job, I'm not able to work. But yet Social Security won't help me.

People look down on you like you ain't doing something right. And I don't know what I'm doing wrong, I really don't know. I can't work. I got a messed up stomach, I got a messed up leg. I've had medical problems all my life.

I just wish I could spend the rest of my life in a hospital, because at least people care. They treat me with respect, they all call me sir, and I'm not a sir, I'm just a homeless person. But they treat me like I matter. And that's more than I get out here.

"Homeless people" does not mean criminals. "Homeless people" means circumstances determine that they can't afford to live no other way. I'm not a mean person; I'm not a bad person. I'm a homeless person. I'm a person that believes, "Love thy neighbor the way you want to be loved." Give respect to people no matter what race, color, creed, sex... anything about it. Give respect to other people.

That's all that really matters. I can ask anybody that's out there that's listening to this to say a prayer. Not only [for] me, but all the people out here.

There's probably over 500 people that's homeless out here that no one knows about. Nobody cares about.

This story was reported and produced by Jonah McKeown. 

Jonah McKeown is a Master's student at MU studying convergence journalism. His main interests include video reporting and editing as well as radio. Jonah graduated from Truman State University in 2016 with a degree in Communication, and hails from Mexico, Missouri.
Rebecca Smith is a reporter and producer for the KBIA Health & Wealth desk. She was born and raised in Rolla, Missouri, and graduated with degrees in Journalism and Chemistry from Truman State University in May 2014. Rebecca comes to KBIA from St. Louis Public Radio, where she worked as the news intern and covered religion, neighborhood growth and the continued unrest in Ferguson, MO.
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