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Living homeless needs to be experienced, two Norman pastors say

Two Norman pastors recently spent 10 days living as homeless people to experience for themselves the difficulties it creates.
by Jane Glenn Cannon Published: November 11, 2012

To better understand something, sometimes you have to experience it.

That's why two Norman pastors spent 10 days recently living as homeless people, camping out, eating at shelters, sometimes scrambling for a ride or a place to clean up.

On Oct. 30, Dusty Buff, pastor of Grace Church, and youth minister Philip Nguyen celebrated the anniversary of their small, nondenominational church on the city's east side, ate a communal meal with fellow congregates, then hoisted back packs, layered on clothes and set off for the woods.

“That first night, it just got so cold. We couldn't wait to trek into town the next morning,” Nguyen said.

The next two nights, the two slept on the floor of a shelter, but not wanting to take up space regularly used by other homeless people, they returned to camping, often sleeping between houses or behind someone's fence line.

If they wanted to clean up, they soon learned they had to get on a list. Food and Shelter provides daily meals for the homeless and has one shower that is available from 8 a.m. to noon for those who sign up.

“You fall into a routine. You know where you need to be to get what you need. A lot of time and effort goes into just getting where you know you need to go,” Buff said.

The two applied for jobs, only to realize if they walked the five miles to the job site and worked for eight hours, they would miss meals that day. Pay for the work wouldn't come in for another two weeks.

“So it's a decision-making thing. Do you take the job? And if you do, how do you eat until you get your first paycheck?” Buff asked.

Find shelter from cold

They did discover that hunger was not a problem as long as they showed up at the right place at the right time.

“No one in Norman need ever go hungry,” Buff said. “There are plenty of resources for that, and people are generous.”

Finding a bed in which to sleep was a different story.

“There are eight beds for men at the Salvation Army, and you can only sleep there five times in a month,” Nguyen said.

During the winter, Food and Shelter allows people to sleep on the floor, with space for maybe 45 bodies, “and that's pretty tight,” Buff said.

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by Jane Glenn Cannon
Senior Reporter
A native of Oklahoma, Jane Glenn Cannon is an award-winning reporter who has covered everything from crime, courts and government to entertainment and features. She wrote a popular personal column for many years. She is a former associate writer...
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