By Matt Gleason
Mental Health Association Oklahoma / BetterBox Project
When it comes to breaking down the stereotypes of people experiencing homelessness in Oklahoma, we can think of no better example than our friend, Brandy. She exemplifies that no one wants to be homeless, people on that streets do, in fact, have jobs, and that we can end homelessness by providing individuals and families with a safe place to live and connecting them to life-changing services in the community.
This is Brandy’s story.
Brandy and her three children lived in a green Buick Century for a year. When they could, they’d couch surf for a time before inevitably ending up back in the Buick. All the while, Brandy never gave up hope that she’d find a way to get her family back into a real home, even if that meant going to work at a Taco Bell at 10 p.m. every night to save up money.
Finally, Brandy and her family moved into an Association apartment for Tulsans experiencing chronic homelessness, meaning they were homeless for a one year straight. When the family was living in the Buick, they had talked about how the kids would get the master bedroom and Brandy would sleep in the smaller room. Brandy kept her promise, but she had a surprise for them on moving day last Friday afternoon.
“I didn’t want to ruin the surprise, so when they kids came into the apartment for the first time, they went right to the balcony and screamed, ‘THERE’S A POOL!’ ”
Yes, their two-bedroom apartment in south Tulsa overlooks a pool, so the kids hurried to get their suits on. At the pool, 13-year-old Antonio encouraged everyone — even the adults — to join him doing backflips into the pool.
“My son is an amazing athlete,” Brandy said. “Even though there wasn’t a diving board, Antonio took three steps, jumped and looked like he was five feet in the air and did a backflip.”
After recalling that story, Brandy paused while sitting near the pool to ask her 5-year-old daughter, SuKoya, how she liked their new home. SuKoya exclaimed, “Good! I love to swim!”
Brandy is thankful that her middle child, 10-year-old daughter Nevaeh — that’s Heaven spelled backward — has made friends while swimming at the pool even though she’s “the quiet one.”
While watching her kids swim several hours before having to be at work at 10 p.m., Brandy said, “You know, I just turned 37. I’ve been trying so hard to maintain a level of self-sufficiency and stability for my kids. They are all I’ve got. With being homeless, and all my kids have gone through, I could have thrown the towel in a long time ago. But I’m not the giving-up type. I was going to fight and do whatever I had to so I could give my kids a home.
“I’ve got a business degree and I’ve worked as a secretary and an office manager, so now that we have an address, I can finally apply for a more professional job,” Brandy continued, “And despite what anybody has said about me, or what their opinion is of people on the streets, I overcame all of that. By telling my story, I feel like I can inspire someone to overcome the impossible situation they are in, too, because I never gave up on myself or my kids.”
At that moment, Brandy smiled as her five-year-old splashed in the pool that’s so far removed from the Buick that will never again be their home.