In Oklahoma City, spring brings sunshine, flowers, and the image of a homeless
person standing on the corner seeking food, money, or a sign of compassion from the
This image is a regular sight.
According to the Homeless Alliance of Oklahoma City, in 2017 a total of 1368
“countable” people experienced homelessness in Oklahoma City. 23 were recorded
dead in 2017; 14 were listed dead in 2016 without a roof over their head, or shortly after
being housed. 254 were counted as chronically homeless.
The organization estimated that, “a community’s annual number of homeless is
four to five times its one-night census… in this case 5,500-7,000 people experience
homelessness in Oklahoma City every year.”
The website, endthehomeless.org, reported an estimated 553,742 people in the
United States experience homelessness on any given night. “According to the most
recent national point-in-time estimate. This represents a rate of approximately 17 people
experiencing homelessness per every 10,000 people in the general population.”
Communities are slowly pushing these groups out.
A Huffington Post story reported that states continue to pass more laws that
essentially make it impossible for people to escape the streets.
The article said those laws make it illegal to stand, sit, sleep, panhandle and
partake in other basic functions in public.
“In turn, police officers dole out fines, which often start out small but quickly
balloon into crushing debt for a person without means,” the Huffington Post said. “Those
who are arrested, even for minor offenses, end up with a criminal record that add
another obstacle to employment and housing.”
On January 16th, local media reports told the story of a homeless man who was
discharged from Norman Regional Hospital. Marconia Kessee, 34, went to the facility
for a headache. Later on, Keesee, was arrested after he refused to leave the hospital.
He died while in custody of the Norman police.
“Kessee was cleared by a hospital physician to be booked into the jail, where he
was found unresponsive in a cell about two hours later,” the article said.
Body camera footage, shows officers arguing with Keesee, after he falls from the
wheelchair yelling in pain. The officers accused Keesee of faking an illness.
“Are you just putting on a show so you have somewhere to stay? Because we
can get you to Salvation Army,” one officer said.
“It ain’t fooling a single person, I can tell you that,” the other said.
“I could teach my dog to put a shoe on quicker than this,” the first officer said.
Since then, both officers have remained on paid leave.
Deon Osborne, the leader of the Citizens Advisory Board Initiative in Norman,
isn’t surprised by the incident.
“I think the basic lack of concern for humans has allowed this to happen,” she
Osborne, and her team established “A Petition to Enhance Community Oriented
Policing with a Citizens Advisory Board” which “advises the Norman Police Department
regarding community interests, issues, and concerns.”
The group also wants to offer advice to Norman’s public officials and its police
For instances like Keesee’s, Osborne said she is seeking more compassion from
public officials and the chance to give the community a voice when events such as the
incident involving Keesee occur.
“My hope in short term is that the petition sparks the creation of a Citizens
Advisory Board. In long term, my hope is that more people start placing people over
profit,” she said. “I want to change the mindset of reaction. I want to create a mindset of
A survey of 187 cities shows that over the past decade almost half have passed
ordinances prohibiting solicitation by homeless individuals.
“Thirty-three percent prohibit camping in public citywide, and 50 percent prohibit
camping in particular public places. Eighteen percent prohibit sleeping in public
citywide, and 27 percent prohibit sleeping in particular public places.
Thirty-nine percent prohibit living in vehicles. Forty-seven percent prohibit sitting and lying down in
particular public places. Twenty-seven percent prohibit panhandling citywide, and 61
percent prohibit panhandling in particular public places. Thirty-two percent have citywide
prohibitions on loitering, loafing, and vagrancy, and 54 percent have similar prohibitions
for specific public places,” the survey said.
Activist Bridget Burns believes this is an escalating problem.
“Bathrooms at public parks all over Norman are locked up for the winter so that
homeless people won’t sleep in them,” she said. “Homeless people’s pain and needs
are continually dismissed, just as Marconia’s were.”
Individuals such as Burns and Osborne are working to dispel myths. They hope
to offer a new perspective on poverty and homelessness. For them just as spring
returns, change is blooming.