HOMELESS BY CHOICE.
IS TULSA, OK?

The nice man at the JOHN 3:16 shelter for homeless men told me all their beds were full. He then suggested I try the Salvation Army and gave me directions. "It's a few blocks from here" he said. "They may have a bed open." It was close to 12:00 midnight and cold for Tulsa, Oklahoma. The streets were all dark and as I ventured the fifteen minute walk to find a bed for the night, I was suddenly approached by a man who mumbled something to me which I could not quite understand. I stopped (which could have been a bad move on my part) and asked "What?" responding to him as he walked toward me at the intersection of Denver St. My heart started speeding up a bit as I wondered if I was going to experience an unwanted adventure. He replied that he didn't want to walk with anyone and would prefer that I left him alone. Relieved, I said "fine" and smiled to myself as I walked across the street hoping he wouldn't follow me. My pace soon moved into a jog and as I found my distance from him increasing, my heart slowed down.

On my journey to find Tulsa's Salvation Army, I discovered I was very under-dressed for the cold weather. I later learned the temperature went down to 32 that night (which for Tulsa, was very cold). I had only put on a T-shirt and a light sweat shirt. I wondered if I was going to bring back a cold from this journey to the streets. I had been invited to Tulsa by an old friend, who was a youth pastor at the Asbury United Methodist Church. The Church was having a series of special meetings to emphasize missions and had asked me to be the key speaker for the youth. Their theme was "Heart to God, Hand to Man". My talk "RISK YOUR LIFE FOR A CHANGE" was to be given after I returned from a night with the homeless on the streets of the city.

This is actually my 7th trip down to the subculture of streets. It had been almost 2 years since my last journey which took me back again to Lexington, Kentucky where I re-visited the homeless who were in a new city/county “Hope” shelter. The residents called that place 'the prison.' I remember being greeting that cold October 1993, not by people but by a metal detector and a set of written rules the first of which clearly stated that we should turn in our fire-arms before being admitted to the shelter. How uninviting. I hoped that this new experience in Tulsa would be a little less threatening.

As I see through a glass dimly, the urban homeless have become much more aggressive and much more violent. Despair has risen to a new response as desperate people do more desperate things. I believe it is this growing sense of desperation combined with the mission statement of SURVIVAL that creates an atmosphere of aggression, intimidation and violence. The shelter providers where I have stayed have become much more 'response-ready.' The metal detectors and full-time security guards with their guns serve notice that violence will be met with violence.

After searching in the dark for the Salvation Army shelter, I located a very large complex and eventually found the door to the shelter section.
I asked the nice man who answered if they had any beds open to which he replied “No.”
Puzzled, I asked, "Do you have any suggestions for someone like myself who is looking for a place to stay?"
He suggested that I come back tomorrow around 5:00 p.m. He indicated that I would be likely to get help then.
As he began to shut the door, I attempted to make further conversation. "Where does someone go when there are no beds open?" I asked. “The man from the JOHN 3:16 Shelter sent me here."
The desk-man repeated that they were full. Then he stated that there were only three shelters in town and there was no place else to go.
I asked if there were any stores or places open all night close by and he indicated he knew of none.  
I then asked if he would call the police and have me arrested if I slept by the window right next to the door.
He said no.
Many people believe there are more homeless in the winter. Actually, there are no more homeless in the winter than any other time. But it seems that way because the homeless who usually stay outside in warm weather choose to go inside in the winter rather than get sick or possibly freeze to death. I suspect this is what was happening in Tulsa. The cold weather brought everyone in and all the beds were filled.

Immediately, I laid down on the outside next to the large lobby picture window . As I hit the hard dirt, I discovered the large quantity of cigarette butts that were in my face. I closed my eyes and began to pray. "Lord, what now?"