James finds ‘a better way’

Relentless forward movement. That’s how James is navigating life in recovery, life on the streets. That is how James has literally found “a better way.”

It’s been just over a year since James committed to taking his life back. Weathered and weary and ready to dry out, he found his resolve anyway. He knows the joy, the peace that sobriety and a sense of purpose brings, after all. He was the primary caretaker for his dying mother for more than seven years.

So on a hot day last June, James took a step forward – one that led him to our employment assistance program in Oklahoma City. “I’m so used to being responsible, you know? Going home and taking care of somebody, and for me not to be using my hands…. I’m so glad I met G,” James professed. 

He was one of eight hundred sixty-seven people who got on the A Better Way van to savor the dignity of honest work last year. United Way of Central Oklahoma turned the dream into reality with generous seed money funding to begin the A Better Way program, which is a flourishing partnership with the City of Oklahoma City. It offers an alternative to panhandling by paying its participants a full day’s wages to beautify the community, cleaning parks and neighborhoods throughout the metro. Through the assistance of a case manager, the individuals are connected to other critical MHAOK programs and community resources, including housing, health care and recovery services. With a dedicated employment specialist on staff, it serves as a hand up to permanent job placement for those in need.

James, like so many vulnerable Oklahomans, was one of those people in need.

“I was coming to see if I can work for a day, you know? Pick up some trash somewhere to make some bus fare money, and it turned out to be full employment,” he said with gentle delight. Gesturing to Genaro Pratcher, affectionately known as G, he added “He helped me. One hundred percent.”

G invests in the people around him – colleagues and participants, alike – and that’s the foundation for his success in this role. 

“Let me just brag on James for a moment,” he interjected. “James has so many distractions out there, folks out not doing what they’re supposed to be doing, and he has made it a point to stay away from any distractions or anything that can cause him to slip out of recovery. I’m very, very proud of him.” 

There was a brief pause before he concluded. “He makes every appointment and arrives early. He makes it easy for me to advocate for him.”

Advocacy can be the difference between stability and uncertainty. It can be the difference between safety and peril. It can be the difference between existing and thriving. James was offered a full-time position with benefits and paid time off at a local partnership business yesterday. 

When asked about his recovery, James’ mouth curls into a soft smile. He has been sober for just over a year, now, and he has worked tirelessly to be able to say that. “I try to make all the AA meetings, and I try to keep people who are positive in my life, people who will help and not hurt my goals.”  James will quite literally add more miles to his walk in an unrelenting effort to stay in the healthy lane. While living on the streets, that can feel like an impossibility, but it isn’t. It isn’t without grit, determination, and people like G in your corner.

Currently, James is sheltering with a friend in nearby Midwest City as he works with an advocate to secure permanent housing.

A Better Way is funded in part by the City of Oklahoma City.