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The body of a homeless man was found Wednesday morning outside of the Veterans Coming Home Center, a daytime drop-in center for homeless people.

The Greene County Medical Examiner’s Office is still waiting for toxicology reports, but say the death of 48-year-old John Stark does not appear to be suspicious.

Tom Van De Berg, chief forensic investigator, said an autopsy was done Thursday, and there were no obvious signs of foul play.

Pastor John Alarid with Freedom City Church knew Stark for a few years.

Freedom City Church, formerly CityReach, targets the homeless, people who have substance abuse disorder and those in recovery. Alarid himself is an ex-con and in long-term recovery.

Stark struggled with addiction and twice tried to complete Freedom City’s Hope Home recovery programs, Alarid said. Stark had also twice been a resident at Freedom City’s sober-living home, the Timothy House.

Alarid said he tried to encourage Stark to stay and finish the programs.

“I said, ‘John, you are not ready,'” Alarid recalled. “I’m very sad.”

Stark was well liked at Freedom City Church, Alarid said, even by those who do not come from a drug or criminal background.

“They loved him,” Alarid said. “He was respectful. He was a gentleman. He was soft-spoken. He’d open the door for you — that kind of guy.”

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Though everyone with Freedom City’s recovery programs is very sad, Alarid said, they are looking at Stark’s death as a reason to continue their work.

“This is what happens when you are on the front lines,” Alarid said. “This should be an encouragement to keep doing what we are doing.”

“There’s other people out there that we still need to reach so this doesn’t happen to them,” he said. 

According to Stark’s papers on file for the Freedom City recovery programs, Stark was from Camdenton.

Mark McKnelly, Chaplain of Victory Mission’s Restoration Program, also knew Stark.

As he had done in Freedom City’s recovery programs, Stark participated in Victory Mission’s programs off and on over the past few years, McKnelly said. 

Stark would do really well, but leave before completing the program.

McKnelly said Stark’s mental health struggles prevented him from “breaking the cycle.”

“I feel like John is another person that has fallen between the cracks of the mental health situation,” McKnelly said. “It breaks our hearts to see men leave sober-living environments like ours and don’t recover.”

“But with extreme mental health struggles, sober-living environments are sometimes not healthy for them to be in,” he said. “There aren’t mental health professionals to help with their primary issues, and there just aren’t enough adequate mental health residential programs.”

McKnelly went on to call Stark’s struggles and death “tragic.”

“Guys like John Stark, they make their rounds in the recovery, treatment and sober-living community,” McKnelly said. “Those environments aren’t really set up to meet their needs. And their (mental health) struggle tends to lead them away from those environments and back on the streets. It’s heartbreaking to watch it happen.”

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Charlie Orman, a homeless man who was friends with Stark, called the News-Leader after learning of Stark’s death. Orman was hoping the reporter could find out what happened to his friend.

Folks at the Veterans Coming Home Center were told about Stark’s death on Friday morning.

Orman said he hadn’t seen Stark in a few days and was wondering where Stark was.

The news “broke my heart,” Orman said.

“He was always good to me, very polite to me,” Orman said. “He was someone I’d like to have on my side.”

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