Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Homeless in Oklahoma City, OK: Clyde

by Al Griffin

Sitting on a bench in the pre-dawn glow of a streetlight, Clyde drooped forward, half asleep and bundled into coats and sweatshirts with hoods piled up on his neck. On his head he wore two baseball caps. As I walked up, he opened his eyes and stared for a long time. He smiled a little when I asked if I could sit on the bench.



Clyde dropped out of school in the 6th grade, he said. Born in Norman and growing up in Moore, he worked at fast food places doing the usual entry level jobs for years, but a downhill slide was inevitable due to Clyde's lack of education. Clyde ended up on the streets about 5 years ago. He doesn’t have much hope of finding his way out of the current situation.

He smiles and talks freely, answering questions without any sense of loss or deprivation in his life. He seems to accept his circumstances as the permanent condition of his life. 

Sometimes I think the indomitable human spirit shows through these who drift from day to day on the street. They carry a spark that will not be quenched by circumstances so dire others cannot imagine them. Those of us who have everything we need to make life good on so many levels will never understand the ability to plod onward from day to day in an existence so bleak, so devoid of hope, so cold and wet and hungry. 


Other times I wonder if the ability to carry on into the dark face of utter hopelessness is not just a biological necessity like a moth flying toward light; without thinking or feeling or understanding, the creature gropes onward for no apparent reason.

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


Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Nation, Homeless in Oklahoma City

Commentary by Al Griffin

Staggering along with a large pack and sacks over his arm, a small, middle-aged man approached me on the sidewalk. He did not look at me as we met, but as soon as I spoke, he broke into a smile and stuck out his fist for a bump. His street name is Nation, he explained, but offered no information about why.

Disposable, a Photo by Al Griffin
We talked for several minutes, and he seemed confused and lost.  He confessed he did not follow his meds routine closely some days. Like many fellows on the street, he seemed reluctant to share much personal information. When I asked how long he had been living on the street he said “too long” and left it at that. He evaded direct answers about where he was born also. “Let’s just say I was born in another state and they are not friendly” was the only answer.

He did start taking money out of his pockets and counting it, talking about the high price of good beer and lamenting the fact he needed to stick with cheap brands. I offered enough to make up the difference, and he smiled broadly and gave another fist bump.

We talked a long time, and he was very polite. He seemed to enjoy the time, but did not want his photo taken. He explained that as a private citizen, he enjoyed his right to privacy, but if he became a movie star, he would have no privacy.  Nation further shared his views on street life, but was becoming less clear and lucid as our time progressed.

He showed genuine gratitude for the help in upgrading his beer purchase and offered a parting fist bump. Nation appeared to have arrived at the point where nothing existed beyond beer and endless walking. Even life on the streets has varying degrees of misery, and Nation had reached the lower levels it seemed: hopelessness.

Nearby I found a sign that said unattended items would be disposed of quickly. Lying asleep beside the sign was a homeless woman. I did not disturb her, but thought the image told a sad tale in a city where so many are on the streets.



Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Today's the Day: Vote!

Too few people decide our futures because too few people vote. Don't be one of the few. Be one of many who love their country so much that they will vote for the greater good of us all.

A similar admonition and plea appeared October 31, 2012 and appears again below.

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Since 1988, it [voter turnout] has fluctuated, from a low of 52.6% of eligible voters ... in 1996 to a high of 61% of eligible voters in 2004, the highest level since 1968." Fewer--about 57%--were able to decide for all of us in 2012.

About half of the eligible voters decide outcomes that will determine the nature of the Supreme Court, the collegiality of Congressmen and women, the role that our nation will play in the world, and the social, economic and physical health of our citizens. One of every two eligible voters will vote and determine our futures.

Look at the person to your right.

Now look left.

Consider your neighbor.

Think about your relatives.

Can you honestly say that you are just fine, completely content to let those folks shape your future?

No?

Then vote! . . .  Your life, your well-being, and the future of this nation depend upon it. Vote with all the information and intelligence you can bring to bear. Vote!