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
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.
searching in the dark for the Salvation Army shelter, I located a
very large complex and eventually found the door to the shelter
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?"