Putting a Face to Homelessness

Putting a Face to Homelessness

Photo courtesy of the Tulsa World newspaper.

Like my late father, no one deserves to experience homelessness.

Since last April, my primary job has been seeking people out wherever they may be, whether it’s under bridges, encampments in the woods or other dangerous places. Through regular contact, I build trust and relationships and handout Street Outreach Care Packages full of critical items, and connect them to essential community services.

In the process of street outreach, I work with law enforcement members to ensure people experiencing homelessness stay connected to services and avoid being ticketed or incarcerated. Our ultimate goal with this new Homeless Outreach Rapid Response program is to give people, and their families, an opportunity to start new lives as they successfully transition from living on the street to their own apartment where they can thrive and become self-sufficient.

Putting a Face to Homelessness

In the past month, I’ve been really focused on three people, Matt, Mary and Martha. I’m thrilled they each had the courage to reach out for help so they could get off the streets and into housing.

These aren’t their real names, but their journeys are…


Matt is 59 and has experienced chronic homelessness for at least 15 years.

Until recently moving into a safe place to live, Matt lived near Veterans Park in Tulsa. Business people around his encampment left him alone because he was friendly and kept his camp clean. Each day he would wake early in the morning, pack all of his worldly belongings into his shopping cart and head off to collect cans for money.

I first met Matt about two years ago. At the time, he was still kind of weary of me asking personal questions necessary for paperwork to get him off the streets. Although he wasn’t ready for housing, I made a point to stop by and visit him from time to time. There’s real power in treating someone experiencing homelessness like a friend you’re excited to see. It’s the little things that matter. Then in April, I was able to invest a little more time into getting to know Matt. I was talking to community providers seeing if they knew who he was. Turns out he was just at that point starting to connect to other providers in the community. Now I don’t know if it’s because I referred him, or he did it on his own, but he had a case manager. He was doing everything he could to get into housing. I was so proud of him. Then, about a month and a half ago, Matt was finally on a list for housing. We were looking at Association housing but another agency had an apartment ready for him sooner. What a blessing it was to see him move in last Thursday. I know he’s a spiritual and hard-working man grateful for this opportunity. After years of collecting cans in his grocery cart, Matt is finally home.

Mary and Martha

This mother in her 70s and her adult daughter have been experiencing homelessness off and on since 2005. They prefer the streets to the shelters. When I met with them, they were living downtown by a church and just kind of moving their stuff day to day so it wouldn’t get thrown away.

It took about a month and a half for them to trust me. I wanted to help them get their IDs, birth certificates, get them their Social Security payments. All of this just takes time. They started trusting me enough for me to take them places, like going to the Social Security office and advocating on their behalf. Turns out that Mary had uncollected Social Security payments due to her. That took about a month and a half to get but it was worth it. Suddenly, Mary had enough to finally get both herself and her daughter into housing. But it was actually stressful for them to decide to make the move. They were without a home for so long, that this was something new and stressful. Once they were willing to say they were ready, they decided to live together in an Association apartment complex. They moved in a week and a half ago. Mary actually paid her rent six months in advance!  Since then, I’ve gone by two or three times but they haven’t been home. They take taxis around town as they take care of everything that’s been delayed for so long.

Mary has physical limitations, Martha is impacted by mental illness and they both have health issues. My next step is to help them reconnect with healthcare. They’re both really sweet people. Mary actually calls me son and always wants to give me a hug.

These are just two stories that I hope put a face to homelessness for you. Whenever you see someone on the streets, I hope you’ll take the time to see them as the amazing people they really are, and know that recovery is possible and happening every day.

Are you concerned about someone?

If you are you concerned about someone on the streets and wonder what you can do to help, I would encourage you to visit the Association’s new website — www.mhaok.org — and click on the Street Outreach link under Get Help. That’s where you’ll find a simple form that will ask you to give a few details about where the person is living and what their needs are. Once you’re finished, the form will send me an email. To fill out a form, click here!


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