Homeless vet, please help (Guest Post: Camille Landry)

camille_landryCamille Landry is a writer, activist, and advocate for social justice who lives in Oklahoma City. This is the fourth in Camille’s series, “Neglected Oklahoma”, focused on Oklahomans who find themselves in a position where the basic necessities of life are hard to come by. For previous installments, click herehere and hereThe people whose stories we tell are real people and their stories are true. Names have been changed to protect privacy.

I met him standing in the median strip at a busy Oklahoma City intersection. He was holding a sign that read “Homeless vet. Please Help. God bless.” I handed him a couple of dollars and drove away. I saw him in the same area a few days later. This time I asked him if he’d share his story. He shook his head. I gave him $5.

homelessWhen I ran into him outside a fast food restaurant a week later, he asked me why I wanted to talk to him. I told him I was trying to understand what it was like to be homeless so that I could share that information with other people. He said he would talk to a friend but not a social worker. “For real, you’re not a social worker? You’re not a cop?” he asked for the fifth time. “I don’t need a social worker. I don’t like cops.” We sat down. He ordered 3 burgers, fries and a malt.

“You can call me Swift,” he said. “Lawrence G. Swift, Jr. I really am swift.” He laughs. “I was the fastest man on my ship when it came to loading munitions,” he bragged. “That was my job and I did it well.” He talks a mile a minute. When I comment on it he replies wryly, “My name is Swift, ya know.”

Swift is 46 years old. He is a high school graduate, a veteran of the US Navy, a husband, a father. He has three brothers and sisters and a host of other relatives. He hasn’t talked to his ex-wife, son or other family members in years. “I’m too f*cked up to be around people,” he said.

He has bipolar disorder. He hates taking the medicine that was prescribed. “It makes me shake. It makes me think slow. It makes me hungry all the time, then I throw up everything I eat.” Getting the medication is hard for him, too: Long waits at the VA clinic. Too many people. Sometimes he forgets his appointments. Sometimes he cannot force himself to walk through the door. Sometimes the voices in his head tell him that the medications are poison.

Swift also uses methamphetamine. He’s not alone – Oklahoma ranks third nationwide in meth use. Tulsa has been termed “the meth capital of the US, ” and Oklahoma City isn’t far behind. I ask how he can afford it. “I get disability,” he says. “And meth is cheap, ya know?” Thirty dollars – which he can collect by panhandling in a couple of hours – is enough to buy a meth high that lasts all day.

Swift has spent time in the VA and state hospital facilities in the past but hasn’t been hospitalized for years. There’s a waiting list at the VA for drug and psychiatric treatment. And despite Oklahoma’s high rates of methamphetamine abuse, the wait list for a bed in a rehab program can be months, even years long.

I asked Swift where he sleeps. “I used to go to the Salvation Army men’s shelter. And sometimes to the Rescue (City Rescue Mission). I just do that when it is really cold outside.” Mostly he sleeps near the I-44 bridge where he stands with his sign. “Used to be more places where you could camp out, get out of the wind and rain,” he says, “but now the police chase us away, especially downtown.” He says he doesn’t like to sleep in big rooms with lots of other people. “I’m afraid I’m gonna hurt somebody or somebody is going to hurt me.” Swift isn’t alone; the Homeless Alliance estimates that 300-400 people sleep unsheltered every night.

“I used to have a dog but he died. I miss that dog. I get lonesome sometimes.” Loneliness is just part of his troubles. Homelessness is dangerous. “People will hurt you for a couple bucks,” Swift says. You get beat up ‘cause somebody wants your boots or because you look at somebody the wrong way.”

I asked Swift how long he was going to do what he’s doing. “Until I die, I guess.” Unfortunately that event might not be far away. Homelessness dramatically elevates one’s risk of illness, injury and death. Homeless persons are three times more likely to die than the general population. The average age of death of homeless persons is about 50 years, the age at which Americans commonly died in 1900.

The leading causes of death for homeless persons are drug overdoses, HIV, homicide, heart disease. Violence (including unprovoked violence — hate crimes wherein a housed person intentionally harms a homeless person), suicide, exposure to the cold, and poor access to health care, leading to deaths from HIV/AIDS, pneumonia, cancer, alcohol withdrawal and heart disease . Methamphetamine overdoses are common in Oklahoma, which consistently ranks among the highest states in methamphetamine usage.

The Oklahoma Homeless Alliance estimates that over 300 homeless people suffer from severe mental illness, and 475 cope with substance abuse issues. Veterans are disproportionately represented. They make up approximately 12% of OKC’s homeless population.

“Do you think anybody cares?” Swift asks me as we leave the restaurant. “Do you think anybody is trying to make things better for people like me?” I tell him that some people are. “You’re as crazy as I am,” Swift replies. “I know nobody cares.”

The opinions stated above are not necessarily those of OK Policy, its staff, or its board. This blog is a venue to help promote the discussion of ideas from various points of view and we invite your comments and contributions. To see our guidelines for blog submissions, click here.

5 thoughts on “Homeless vet, please help (Guest Post: Camille Landry)

  1. There is much help available in Tulsa. Please call me at my law office if you would like more info. 918-587-1800

  2. Camille, if you want to know more about homeless people, and what it’s like to live on skid row for years, then recover only by God’s grace, and climb out of that darkness, you can contact me via my email.

  3. Go to Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble, or Publish America, and, under Inspirational, find the Christmas Cactus by Chris Fiesel. It is the story of how an average person from an ideal home can degenerate into a homeless, insane resident of Skid Row, then recover by the grace of God and build a new life and career and faith in a Higher Power.

  4. What can individuals do to help the homeless people and people with illnesses and other problems besides pray??? Which frankly I do not see that doing any good, people have been praying their guts out for years and years….and our world is still in one more heck of a mess.
    It makes me wish I was rich and could open a place that was funded well, to get these people off the streets and sheltered from the cold and weather.
    Organized with medical help, detox, programs to help them again feel good about their selves, and hopefully in time be able to gain employment and be able to support themselves again.
    Part of the trouble with this crazy world/government is that, living expenses are so high that no one can get ahead. If you are living in poverty, or a low income situation…..how are you to get by and off food stamps and government help??? Rent is so ungodly high, as well as everything else…….there is no way that some people can manage or get by specially if all they have is a minimum wage job, and if they have children at the cost of schooling, and feeding a family now days……they are sunk.
    It doesn’t matter if you have mental illness and need care, on drugs and need detoxed, or just a low income family.
    This government needs to get their act together and work for the good of the human beings, because in some cases it is caused by the lack of care for humanity by the government. This world needs to come together folks, and learn how to work for the good of each other. We are all created equal, that does not mean one person is better then another. Some just may have had better opportunity to advance in life. Some people just loose hope, because no matter what they try, it never seems to get better. This is sad….
    Lets get more programs to help detox people, help people get the medical help they need for mental illness and other issues, programs to help people learn how to live comfortable on low incomes and lower expenses so people can live without such a struggle, that makes them turn to crime to survive.
    If people do not want the help and prefer crime then take stronger measures for punishment, as apposed to letting them set in jail all comfy and tax the tax payers to death.
    I truly believe that tapping a murders or rapists hand and letting them live of the tax payers is a crime in it’s self. That is why our prisons are so full, that the criminals are set loose to cause more crime and cause more harm to others. If these people cannot get the help they need to be civilized human beings and respected citizens, then do what needs to be done!! Period!
    As far as people with an illness that is treatable, like mental illness help them get the medical attention they need, that they may be able to live with less problems and be more helpful to them selves as well as society.
    If for some sad reason……..their situation is so bad…that they need constant supervision, then by all means have facilities to handle this issue. But in doing so don’t just lock them away and keep them so drugged that they are like zombies. Find ways to treat them and help them be as active in life as possible. Some of this is just by caring enough to help them feel loved and important like everyone else. Have programs to give them something to look forward to each day. Just because they might have to live in a facility, does not mean they can’t enjoy life as best as possible.
    I know I am on a roll this morning… but it just really upsets me. To see good people suffering and bad people running around killing and raping innocent children and people.

    We “all” need to learn how to go back many years and live a simpler life, learn how to communicate more, get out side more and live off the land. Get off these dang computers (sure they are nice, but we all spend way to much time here when we could be spending time enjoying life in nature). This goes for the cell phones as well……this is why there are so many overweight people, people with issues, anxiety (the world is moving so fast and people are so over stressed they don’t know what slowing down is). Me included. Spend quality time with family, or quiet times alone, start a group for the good of human beings. Love one another, but first learn how to love yourself.
    Blessings to everyone, everywhere and Peace to all.

  5. I am a homeless vet i live in texas and the ppl really do not care they’re another arm of the military the y only care for theyre paycheck. I deployed twice i receive a monthly check rated at 60 ive tried so many times to get help and nothing happens so yeah im frustrated nd i give up on them maybe my next shot of dope will end it all or maybe this will change soon and get better or i could live like this for 20 more yrs but one day things will be better one way or the other in this life or the next. Just saying i know some ppl do care but so far none that ive asked to help me it seems like they could care less bc i have an addiction but maybe i wouldnt have this if only one person theyre would have cared enough to help me help myself i dont like doing this stuff anymore i do bc i need it without it right now i honestly dont know what i would do but i probably wouldnt be a burden to this screwed up government anymore.

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