Edie Johnson's days are measured by place. Her time on the streets is marked by where she is and when.
There is a routine to follow, even though she is homeless.
Waking up around dawn when it's time to leave the shelter or nighttime sleeping spot. Moving somewhere to wait before breakfast. Then finding a place to linger before moving on again.
Those routine movements are interjected by the clamor of downtown Oklahoma City rehabilitation and construction bringing attention to the habits and presence of the homelessness there.
Many spend afternoons panhandling or waiting for someone needing day labor to drive by hiring for work. Still others pass the afternoon and evening traveling to a nearby convenience or liquor store and then back to a place where they won't be bothered while drinking.
Johnson, 48, said she's lived on the streets for years. Most recently she's called downtown parks and areas below Interstate 40 home, camping and occasionally staying in local shelters.
Her street friends call her "Mama." When things get tough, they ask her for advice and a shoulder.
"I tell them to put it all in God's hands and don't think negative," she says while sitting on a curb in a parking lot near California and Western avenues.
Friends wander past waving and sitting with her in the gritty parking lot before picking up and walking south across a torn up road full of construction signs toward the City Rescue Mission.
Recently, the almost nomadic traveling associated with street life has pushed many of the homeless downtown to more visible areas. This has prompted concern from some businesses and questions of whether the population is increasing or if it only appears that way.
A lagging economic indicator
Evidence is mostly anecdotal since numbers of homeless are counted around the beginning of each year, but Homeless Alliance Executive Director Dan Straughan said shelters are staying full and he's getting more calls from residents and business owners near
"People are reporting to me that our street population downtown has exploded," he said.
It could be possible since homelessness usually follows behind dips in the economy. For that reason it's referred to as a lagging economic indicator.
Some 1,100 homeless live in the streets and shelters of Oklahoma City.
Straughan thinks numbers on the street have probably increased some. But the most likely explanation for why more are noticing people like Johnson is the construction in many areas downtown. The revamping of Film Row, the raising of the Devon tower and various road projects have pushed many transients into more obvious locations.
"We all have a stereotype of a middle-age guy, scruffy, dirty, talking to himself and panhandling. He's a minority. The reality is they are people like you and me who tripped into homelessness."
In an OU baseball cap, jeans and a sweater, Johnson could fit in with the tourists in Bricktown, but she prefers the company of her friends who call the streets home.
The routine feels comfortable on the streets, she said. But she knows her family is ashamed.
After her 5-year-old son's death in 1984 and a string of abusive relationships, Johnson turned to drugs and alcohol and had a falling out with her
"I turned to paint, alcohol, anything to numb the pain," she said. "And I don't want them to see me suffer anymore."
Panhandling Concerns Grow
Kathy Ford-Wallace, vice president of operations for Downtown Oklahoma City Inc., said her office is fielding more calls about aggressive panhandling and concerns about a more obvious street population. The company is the marketing and information arm of the downtown business district.
Downtown business owners were given a presentation recently on how to handle aggressive panhandling.
"There are definitely concerns," she said. "We just want the property owners to know when and what steps to take if there is an issue."
In 2008, Oklahoma City police responded to about 1,200 aggressive panhandling calls. Last year, they responded to about 1,500.
Panhandling is legal in Oklahoma City unless the person is coercing or using fear to solicit money. It's illegal to panhandle within 20 feet of some businesses, cash machines and after dark in public places.
So far this year, police have responded to 965 aggressive panhandling calls. While many are downtown, most are scattered throughout the city.
Straughan is quick to note not all panhandlers are homeless and not all homeless are panhandlers.
He estimates about half of the homeless population in the city has substance abuse problems, mental illness or both.
"Pretty consistently about half have no significant barriers to housing other than economic ones," he said. "Medical expenses, car broke down, those kinds of things."
Most lived in Oklahoma City when they became homeless and some 30 percent are chronically homeless like Johnson.
"You gotta talk the talk down here ... but you also have to listen."
Some of Johnson's friends are quick to admit they will ask for money from strangers. But Johnson gets some work dusting bottles at a liquor store near downtown.
Becky Pittman, who's helped run the store for the 11 years it's been open, said she does what she can to help the regular customers who call the area around the shop home.
"You gotta talk the talk down here," said Pittman. "But you also have to
Pittman said she doesn't pass judgment on anyone who comes in the busy store. During the late morning hours, the door hardly closes as customer after customer comes in for a half-pint bottle of whiskey or vodka.
Pittman, a trained mental health technician, doesn't skimp on the advice. She kicks customers out who can't walk a straight line, tells them if the weather is going to change and doles out the occasional compliments.
"A lot of the homeless down here really want to work, but they can't find anything. I never take for granted that anyone could be going through what they are."
Even a friend of Johnson's, a 40-year-old woman who goes by Melinda, has managed to get off the streets. But she hasn't found work.
She frequently comes back to an area downtown to find her friends in the places she left them.
"Most everyone down here I know is hurting way down deep inside or they wouldn't be here," she said. "It's the real world for us, but at the same time it's not."
Johnson adds that while many feel at home, life on the streets is far from safe. She doesn't take antidepressant medications she's been prescribed. She says they make it difficult to keep alert and make her vulnerable.
Friends die on the streets, she said. Many from cirrhosis of the liver, some from the winter cold. Others for not being constantly aware of the movements around them.
After shedding a few tears and then composing herself, Johnson picks up her bag and says goodbye, falling in with a few other friends she'll likely camp with on the streets after their evening meal.