Night Light Tulsa invited The Collegian to converse with Harvey and discuss his life, chiefly about his journey through homelessness.
I had been put in touch Harvey to hear his long experience with homelessness and share his perspective on how homelessness continues to affect others. I met up with him last Thursday at a volunteer event, where he had agreed to put aside some time and speak with me. Wearing a wooden cross around his neck and a baseball cap sporting the 45th Infantry Division logo, he shook my hand and introduced himself as a staff member for the event.
Harvey finds employ working for Night Light Tulsa, a local non-profit that feeds and clothes people experiencing homelessness. The event takes place weekly beneath the bridge under which Harvey himself used to occasionally find shelter. We found a grassy spot to sit a bit away from the commotion of the event, and I asked him a few questions.
Can you tell me a bit about yourself and your experience with homelessness?
“I was born in Fort Worth, Texas. I grew up in the Sand Springs area and went to school out in Prattville. Of course, we were poor people, you know? We moved out here [to Tulsa] when I was 13. And I quit school, so I had a few years of doing nothing like somebody out of control. This is around ‘79.
“I get a job working with my dad in a steel shop, and I worked there about a year before I met this woman. I found out she was pregnant.
“I asked myself, ‘Now what you gonna do, smartie? What are you gonna show your kid when he goes to show-and-tell?’ That really did bother me. I had to do something about it. So, I joined the military. I served my time and got out. Of course, the first marriage I had [ended in] divorce.
“I got a job at Triple A, and I met another lady while working there. They always say ‘five-diamond service.’ Well, I gave ten-diamond service; I wanted to stick out past the other employees, but that gave me bad ratings because I wasn’t zooming through customers. […] So, I married that lady, moved to Missouri a few years, and came back here, where we got divorced. She split. I’m on the streets, right? This is where it all hit the hardest. I’ve got five brothers and two sisters. None of my family would reach out. And that’s blood.
“You know, I never stayed in a shelter. Never, never. I stayed out in the wilderness. It was the only thing I trusted. I lived near this bridge or by the river. I had a brother stay in a shelter and I’d only seen bad things come from it. He was handicapped, and they would pick on him. At one point, I was going to go down there and put a man on his back [for harassing] my brother. And that’s not good; I was going to hurt somebody. It was just a path of destruction, in all senses. My brother stopped me from doing that. If someone don’t care about nobody else, or if they don’t care about themselves, what good is going to come from it?
“I met another lady [Lisa] since I’d been divorced, and that’s when I started shooting meth. I didn’t care anymore. For ten years, I drank and shot dope. I did that for a long time.
“I took a long look at myself, you know? And I thought, ‘Look what you did to yourself. You used to be a stand-tall, U.S. military, saluting-soldier, and now look at you. You’re trash.’ I really hated what I’d become.
“I was willing to marry Lisa because I loved her so much, but she shot dope too. She didn’t have a job. She didn’t have nowhere, no one. All of a sudden, she got bad sick. I didn’t know what it was. She went to the hospital. The hospital told her that was she fine. They laughed at her, actually. The following year she went back and they told her she had stage-3 cancer. They didn’t get it [earlier], so it just grew and grew and grew. They couldn’t even take it out. She passed away.
“I didn’t want to live, man. I wanted to die because I hated what I’d become. Right after Lisa passed away, my brother passed away. And that left me feeling even more inferior. You know, I’ve had guns pulled on me. A guy put a gun to my temple, and I laughed at him. Like, ‘Dude, are you for real? Do it.’ I didn’t care.
“I had asked God to change me. I asked Him with my whole heart. I reached out from the depths of Hell to ask Him to pull me out, and he did. […] That one prayer was my rehab. One day, I was walking around here, and I passed the Night Light Tulsa building. On the door, it said ‘Ladies’ Meeting,’ and I said, ‘Not for me.’ But I looked down on the pavement, I saw that some kid had written down ‘With God all things are possible.’ Man, that gave me a message. I rang that doorbell, and Sarah [Grounds, the founder of Night Light Tulsa] opened the door. She pulled me a seat and went and got me a cup of coffee, [and] I told her about what happened. This was two years ago. Now I’m off of dope. I see people around that I used to know, and I say, ‘There’s a better life than this. Let me pray for you. Follow me and I’ll take you somewhere they can help you.’ Man, I’m fortunate.
“Evil steps in and takes all you have. Being freed from that brings all you love back, but it takes time for people to trust you again: My son and my grandbabies, I just got to take them to the Gathering Place last Sunday and [also] to church. I’m fortunate like that. I have siblings who are still lost.”
What does the word ‘home’ mean to you?
“For me, home is to be somewhere where I don’t hassle nobody — my being there is bothering no one but myself. You know what I mean? For instance, taking a shower. It’s hard to be in some big facility or someone else’s home and taking a shower when someone knocks on the door. It’s like, ‘Shower’s over. I’ve already intruded.’“
What would you want someone who’s never experienced homelessness to understand about homelessness?
“One thing is, anyone living on the streets [hasn’t] been able to take a shower. They stink, you know? And people look down on them like they’re an insect. Well, that’s not right. That person can’t help it. A lot of them would go take a shower if they had [access to] a facility. And a lot of them won’t take a shower that facilities have provided because they won’t trust others. They’ll get in a shower and their belongings are just taken. I hear all kinds of stories. I’ve reflected a lot, and I thank Jesus for what he’s brought me through.
“I used to smoke two packs of cigarettes a day when I could afford them. When I couldn’t, I would ask people ask people to bum a cigarette. And homeless people [do the same] every day. Some people don’t like to hear that, you know? [The people being asked] wouldn’t give the shirt off their back. They wouldn’t give a smile if asked. They won’t even speak to anyone. Man, that’s gotta stop. God wants us to find all of his children, and many of them are out here on the street. […] If they’re homeless, they’re my family. Have a heart big enough to say to someone, ‘Hey man, you matter to me.’”
If you could give any advice to the public in their treatment of people who have experienced homelessness, what would it be?
“Be very patient with them. A lot of them still have trouble trusting others.”
Due to the formal limitations of an interview, there is a fair amount of my conversation with Harvey I couldn’t include in this edited article. Harvey spoke to me about his family, his past relationships, his favorite childhood memories and his long lasting religious journey. But above all, he spoke of his own fortune. Throughout our 45-minute chat, he kept returning to the word “fortunate” to describe his journey, especially his having found a job working to help the homeless. Pointing to his heart, where his shirt indicates that he’s a Night Light Tulsa staff member, Harvey says, “It’s like I’m tall again. It’s like I’m a stand-up, saluting soldier again.”
If you’d like to volunteer for Night Light Tulsa and help the homeless community of Tulsa, the event takes place every Thursday evening beneath the bridge between the intersection of Brady and Maybelle starting at 6:15 p.m. If you do end up going, you’ll probably see Harvey among the staff working the event. It’s also likely that he’ll ask to take a picture with you with both thumbs up. I hope you’ll take him up on it.
For more information, visit www.citylightsok.org/night-light-tulsa.