Homeless since age 19, Adrian Brown is working with Youth Services to pursue a second chance at life.
Adrian Brown once lived on the streets but now has his own apartment, thanks to Youth Services' Street Outreach.
Just a few months ago, Adrian Brown spent each night in a one-person tent under a bridge near downtown Tulsa that he shared with a married couple in their mid-20s. In fact, it was their tent.
Sometimes he stayed with a friend who had landed an apartment. Most recently, he stayed with a man in his 50s who also was recently homeless.
Brown has lived on the streets since he was 19 — that was five years ago.
He says that’s when he was expelled from Job Corps, a free education and career-training program for young people, and his mom moved away while he was in the program. Without any family or any money, he says he had no option but homelessness.
He spent his days at the downtown Central Library, where he ferociously read Japanese comic books — so much so that he earned the street nickname Yugi after the popular “Yu-Gi-Oh” series.
For a time, he lived near the downtown bus station, cattycorner to the AT&T building. However, he says authorities repeatedly ran him off.
“They were acting like we were a disease or an infestation,” he says. “They were acting like we were the reason that people wouldn’t come to Tulsa and spend their money.”
For about a year, Brown has been coming to Youth Services’ Drop-In Center, which assists homeless youth with basic necessities, such as bathing, clean clothes, toiletries or gathering supplies and meals.
Now, with the help of Youth Services staff, Brown has been accepted into one of the organization’s housing programs and has been living in an apartment. Youth Services’ Street Outreach staff has helped him secure an eye exam and glasses, as well as his Texas birth certificate, voter’s identification and Oklahoma state identification. Brown has even secured a seasonal full-time job as a Salvation Army bell ringer.
“I’m trying to get past all of this because if I go on much more, I’m going to go nuts,” Brown says. “The drop-in shelter has helped with my sanity by providing something to do and helping me get what I need.”
Tim Gowin, Street Outreach coordinator, says his staff helps between 20 to 25 teens and young adults per week and about 350 to 400 every year. He says Tulsa’s homeless teen and young adult population is well more than 1,000. Because of the transient nature of homelessness, and because hundreds of children live at hotels, shelters or at other people’s houses, the actual population number is hard to estimate.
However, he says he knows he isn’t reaching nearly enough of them.
“I’d probably say it’s three-to-one,” he says. “For every one we serve, I’d guess there are three we aren’t serving.”
Gowin says about two-thirds of the 400 youth he sees every year come to the center only a few times to get basic services before moving on to another location.
“Tulsa is a pretty good-sized city on the way between major cities like KC (Kansas City) and Dallas,” he says. “So, we get kids traveling through who will stay here for a week or so.”
The other third work with the staff for a year or two, but many do not find stable housing before they disappear or age out of Youth Services’ program at 25 (the organization serves teens and young adults ages 16-24).
Youth Services is designed to be a safe, nonjudgmental social area where teens can come and go as they wish to get as many, or as few, services as they need. It’s designed to help encourage youth to feel empowered and as if they have control over their future.
“We’ve designed our program that way really because we want them to make the choice — because that’s really the best gift we can give them,” Gowin says. “They really do feel, and really are, limited in society. They feel like their choices aren’t theirs, and here, we try to give them power to make choices, even if they choose to do nothing.”
Gowin and his staff of three go every week to where they know homeless teenagers spend time — Central Library, The Salvation Army Center of Hope, the Tulsa Day Center for the Homeless, well-known bridges, the Arkansas River bank.
They distribute food and Gatorade and talk with the youth to determine whether they can help in any way.
Their goal is to remove any kind of obstacle in the young person’s way to becoming employed or finding housing. They assist those young adults who desire help in applying for housing, food stamps, birth certificates, food handlers’ permits — whatever they need to help stabilize their lives.
“We start very small with them, and we hope to build that trust so they can ask for help,” he says.
As for Brown, he hopes to eventually go to college to study computer software and hardware.
Gowin says Youth Services will help however it can, in whatever way Brown shows he needs help.
“We try not to even be the place for second chances,” Gowin says. “We try to be the place for unlimited chances.”