Written by Larissa
What would our hometowns look like and how would the way we look at the homeless community change if our cities worked to help give a hand up to people experiencing homelessness, instead of ignoring the problem or making it worse by tearing down the spaces some have to lay their head at night or just fining people time and time again for occupying a space? The Homeless Outreach Team (H.O.T) of Oklahoma City recognized that there is a better way to work towards eliminating homelessness by working directly with the homeless population to improve living conditions and offer services, thereby improving public safety and increasing quality of life. The Oklahoma City Police Department is making a real difference in their community through HOT and we were absolutely thrilled to be invited to see how they operate and meet some of the homeless population they the know and serve.
In March of 2017, along with two of the founders of Gathering Friends for the Homeless (based out of Springfield, Mo), we traveled to OKC to photograph and chronicle some of those individual’s stories, in partnership with the OCPD HOT, and were blown away to not only see and experience the way the officers interacted with the homeless individuals that we met, but that the respect between both was mutual. Every new friend we met had nothing but kind words, gratitude and respect for the officers who were so genuine in every interaction and had clearly built a trusting friendship through actually providing resources, supplies, and a helping hand.
As we walked through the campsites spread across acres of woods, we were warmly introduced to the people that occupied each tent, and were honored to hear their stories. Each person we met was wonderfully unique, spoke highly of the people in their community, allowed us to capture their portrait, and told us about their lives leading up to now, their experiences, their family, life and love...each person beautifully different from the next, and yet so alike in the way that all humans are - seeking hope, love and acceptance. We watched the way Carl cared for his sick dog as his own child, we listened to Pops speak about the beauty of nature, his infectious laugh still replaying in my ears, we watched Amanda and her husband argue with each other about keeping their tent tidy, and then tease each other lovingly...we learned a lot about the importance of family, taking care of what you have, and being fearless in the face of disease and sickness from Sarge (who was wearing a shirt that read ‘People Need People’ the day we met him)....these individuals and the other handful of people we had the pleasure of meeting and chronicling the stories of became our friends in no time at all, reminded us the importance of seeing things from someone else's perspective, and impacted our hearts and minds in countless ways.
In the coming weeks, we are so excited to be sharing each of their stories, along with the stories of 2 officers in the Homeless Outreach Team in Oklahoma City that guided us through the campsites that day. We are so inspired by the work the HOT of OKC has implemented into their communities that make a real difference in the lives of the homeless population, as well as the city a whole. It is our hope that we can learn from them and start to make the necessary changes in our own community of Springfield, Missouri, as well as inspire and motivate people all over the world to do the same. There is a better way to go about making changes in the world around you that involve taking the time to understand people, assisting with resources, and providing care and dignity to people equally, not just seeing things or people as a “problem” that needs to be solved, or an “issue” that can just be ignored. If you take the time to know someone’s heart and their life, it’s amazing how you realize how alike we all are. Each of us desires and deserves to be loved, to be accepted, to be respected and to live life to the fullest, regardless of what skewed perception society might label you with. The homeless are more than a statistic or misunderstood person...they are beautiful, one-of-a-kind individuals whose lives matter just as the same as yours and mine.
Stories and portraits of the homeless population in Oklahoma City will be a part of the ongoing ‘The Road I Call Home’ project and will be featured soon on 7BillionOnes.org. You can experience the short film, portraits and stories of dozens of people now who have experienced or are currently experiencing homelessness by clicking here.
The purpose of the Homeless Outreach Team (HOT) is to ensure OCPD remains sensitive to the unique needs of the homeless population while responding to the concerns of the greater community. HOT works with homeless individuals linking them with valuable social services to improve their living conditions thereby improving public safety.
Their mission is to impact the homeless community through positive police contact and community partnerships with the ultimate purpose of altering the homeless person’s perspective on life, and potential for getting needed services and assistance. The Homeless Outreach Team serves the community by coordinating efforts between law enforcement, local, state and private agencies that provide services to at risk homeless in the City who are living on the streets and considered Chronically Homeless.