Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Chuck, Homeless in Oklahoma City, Early November 2014

I found Chuck dozing on a sidewalk bench at dawn in downtown Oklahoma City. I would have passed him by, but he stirred as I moved past and smiled up from the bench. When I asked if I could join him, he flashed a wide grin and indicated the spot beside him.

Chuck claimed the Cheyenne Tribe and said he came from around Lawton, Oklahoma originally. The Cheyenne people were among those relocated to Indian Territory during our westward expansion. A dark distinction in Cheyenne history is the Sand Creek Massacre of 1864; it was the most horrific unprovoked attack in American history and changed forever the course of our expansion and our relations with the Native Americans.

On the streets for several years, Chuck’s work history included nurse’s aid for home health companies, but a felony conviction in his background limits employment opportunities. Assault on a police officer and other crimes of violence dot his record. Relating one courtroom scene recently, when the judge asked if Chuck was trying to “kill that guy,” Chuck said he answered “probably, but I don’t remember.”

Chuck seems to remember the little things about life on the street. He talked about finding shelter and more permanent housing, but needs to have some income to accomplish that goal. Affable and outgoing, Chuck seemed to enjoy our time together, grinning and laughing on a warm, fall morning as the sun glinted off the glass and steel of downtown buildings. 

With winter coming, I wonder how Chuck will fare today and tonight when the cold wind seeps into whatever humble shelter he can find. His people ruled the Western plains along with their allies, the Arapaho. Chuck does not seem to rule much but his own spirit. Maybe that is all any one of us can hope for. I wish him well and hope to see him again.

Words and images by Al Griffin