CASPER, Wyo. — Ron Warner wants nothing more than to be a good dad, and would also love to be a good grandpa.
He’s got two sons that he almost never sees. The last time he talked to one of them was around Christmas last year.
Ron doesn’t blame his sons for viewing him that way. He does blame his decades of addiction to alcohol and drugs, and is now coming to terms with the cost of those addictions.
“‘Loser dad’ is just what it’s always been,” he said. “‘Loser dad’ or ‘loser grandpa.'”
“All I can do now is, you know, go through this program and keep doing what I’m doing, and try to build a relationship back with my family. All of them.”
Ron has been at the Wyoming Rescue Mission for roughly two months. His last home was under a Casper bridge near the now-infamous Econo Lodge, which had been damaged by squatters and burst pipes after its owners abandoned the property.
Ron, 52, sports a smart haircut and eyeglasses that sit in front of weary eyes. He is soft spoken, and open about a life that most people can’t imagine.
Ron was a little kid when he moved to Casper from Bakersfield, California, with his single mom, three brothers and a sister to be closer to his grandmother, who was a Casper native. He talks kindly about his mother and siblings.
“My home life wasn’t bad,” he said. “It was my choice to do all that, I was kind of out of hand.”
He started drinking around age 14, he said. By the age of 18, he had discovered harder drugs, eventually leading to methamphetamines. He didn’t graduate high school but managed to earn a GED. From there he worked numerous jobs, some of them quite good. Unfortunately, they never lasted.
“Alcohol always took my jobs away,” he said. “I’d get drunk and mess myself up; something bad always happened no matter what, and I just kept on it.”
He’s had surgeries on his back and knees, he said.
His adult home life was seldom steady. As the addictions grew, he describes going from place to place, borrowing couches or other places to stay. He had a girlfriend for a while, but that eventually ended poorly.
“I burned all my bridges,” he said, eventually shifting between couch surfing and sleeping on the streets until the streets were all he had left.
“It’s an awful experience,” he said. “You don’t know where you’re going to sleep or what you’re going to do. It’s so cold and windy and you try to find a place to shelter, and you think that drinking more is going to help you but it doesn’t.”
It’s a life of monotony as well as extremes. Ron was once hospitalized for a few days after nearly freezing to death. “Then one time I fell asleep in the sun, and burnt myself so bad I ended up in the hospital because of that,” he said.
“I gave up, I actually gave up,” he continued. “I thought about suicide, but whether or not I would do it were two different things, but believe me the thought crossed my mind.”
Ron decided to join the Wyoming Rescue Mission’s Discipleship Recovery program after coming into contact with a mission counselor.
“Wyoming Rescue Mission currently serves 118 guests, which includes 80 guests in the Emergency Services’ shelter and 38 guests who are actively working paths toward addiction recovery and self-sufficiency in the Discipleship Recovery Program,” according to a recent release from the Mission. Around 65% of guests are from Natrona County. Aside from its full program, the mission offers food and Mercy Services, according to Director of Development Cheryl Hackett, who said that often fewer than four people participate in the latter at a time.
Recent stories incorrectly painted Casper as overrun by lawless homeless people, with unfounded claims of sidewalks covered with human feces and encampments. The overblown tales have brought sudden focus on the homeless population in the city, which according to people working with the homeless, has remained relatively consistent over the past several years in Natrona County.
The annual Point in Time count, in which volunteers take to Casper’s streets to talk to and gauge the homeless population, takes place in late January. It’s often when Casper’s shelters are most full due to the harsh winter conditions, but some say it misses the transient population that arrive during warmer months.
The sensationalist stories don’t just paint Casper in a negative light, they also obscure the human cost and reasons behind the issue.
“More often than not, what the data shows right here in Natrona County is there’s a significant drug and alcohol problem,” Hackett said. “What causes homelessness is largely addiction, trauma, and mental health issues. We know that all of those are huge issues in the state.”
The Rescue Mission’s program offers services such as job training, counseling and addiction recovery. However, it is Christian-based, and while it is not required that non-Christians convert, the program does center around Bible study, Hackett said. For those who’d prefer help without a religious component, there are few alternatives for homeless and addiction recovery in the state.
That’s not an issue for Ron, who remembers his mom and grandmother reading the Bible, and who said he became a Christian years ago.
Still, Ron has struggled with sobriety numerous times in the past, he said. “I would just go back to doing the same old stuff.”
“I feel like I’m just there now, I don’t want to go back, and I want to live the rest of my life clean and sober.”
The goal is also to reconnect with his family, but he knows there is work to be done. “I need to prove myself and continue in this program,” he said. “I’m talking to my niece again and we had our problems, but now I’m talking to her again.”
“You know, that’s Jesus doing that, just step by step.”