Almost any day, somewhere in Oklahoma City, on an entrance ramp to I-40 or blocks away from the Jesus House on Sheridan, you may encounter someone holding up a sign which says something like, "Will Work for Food." Just driving by can cause uncomfortable feelings, even in the most cynical. You don't want people to be hungry or homeless. You want to do what you can to help! But you wonder if you are being “scammed” or if the people will really use the money you give them for food.
These people only represent a handful of the men, women and children in desperate need in our community. Even in a city the size of Oklahoma City, it is easy for us to be overwhelmed by the needs of the poor! It is important for you to know some facts about the homeless in our community.
The first, and most important fact, is that all homeless people are not alike. Circumstances which result in homelessness can happen both to the young and old, people with college degrees and those who are illiterate. They may be mentally ill, drug or alcohol-addicted, displaced workers or veterans. Many of the homeless are among the working poor-people whose minimum-wage jobs just won't pay the rent and put food on the table.
In addition, there are hundreds of households in our community which are just one crisis away from homelessness. They may be sharing housing ... living paycheck to paycheck with no reserve for emergencies ... people who have no friends or family to help them. The homeless can be victims of illness, child abuse, violence or the lack of education and job skills.
On the other hand, homelessness can result from an individual’s own bad choices. Although some homeless people may be dangerous, they are more frequently targets of abuse and street crime. They can feel very isolated and become concerned for their physical safety and the security of the few belongings they may have. Whatever the circumstances of their homelessness, these men, women and children need our help! But what can one person do?
My name is Rick Swyden and I’m an individual advocate for the homeless men, women and children of Oklahoma City. I believe that one man can make a difference. I started the Hot Dogs for the Homeless campaign on January 5th, 2003. HotDogs for the Homeless is an idea of mine that grew out of a faith-based sharing program in the Catholic Church called “Renew 2000” in which my wife Susan and I were involved. In one of our small community meetings, the idea was born, but not acted upon. The idea was further nurtured by a statement made by the great philosopher “Dr. Phil” (of which I’m a huge fan) in which he talked about an idea that stuck with me. He said “Basically, it’s when things in your life are getting you down and the world is just too much to handle. Instead of focusing energy on your life, focus that energy on helping another person less fortunate than yourself.” But the situation that put HotDogs for the Homeless in place was an encounter with a homeless man in San Antonio, Texas on New Year’s Eve day 2002. I saw a homeless man, sitting on some steps, and instead of walking by this man, I sat beside him and began talking to him like you would talk to a friend. It’s indescribable how bad this man looked, and equally indescribably how kind and loving his eyes were. In our ten minute conversation, he never asked for any money, but I gave him some just the same. After our conversation, I caught up with my wife and friends inside the mall and I decided that this man must be fed. My good friend, Jerry King, who was with us, suggested we buy him a hamburger. As we walked up to an A & W Root Beer vendor to order a hamburger for the homeless man, we were informed that they only served hot dogs at this location, and for me this was my sign from God that HotDogs for the Homeless was meant to be. IT was an epiphany in my life and an amazing way to start the New Year by feeding a homeless man.
I wept uncontrollably for an hour after returning to our hotel. I can’t tell you why I was crying so, but it was both painful and joyful. But for whatever reason, it was a defining moment in my life and the following Sunday, January 5th, 2003, my wife and I bought two packages of hot dogs, buns and some bottled water and HotDogs for the Homeless came to be. Each week, on Sunday afternoon, my wife and I buy more and more hot dogs to feed the homeless. But we can’t afford to do this by ourselves, but as friends have become aware of what we’re doing, they have been helping with financial contributions and/or hot dogs, hot dog buns, chips, snacks and bottled water. My friend and right hand man in my life, Mike Velte, has given his time and effort to help our campaign as well. This very website you are looking at, as well as the filming and documenting of our HotDogs for the Homeless campaign has been generously donated by his kindness so that we can make people aware of the needs of the homeless right here in Oklahoma City.
But much more can be done. I don’t just feed the homeless, I am their friend. I’m getting to know their names, their stories and their needs. I want to meet their individual needs, but I need financial support to do so. If you are so able and are moved to help with our campaign, a financial contribution of any amount helps. If you have not watched the video on our website, please do so. It’s only four minutes long and shows exactly what we do to help the homeless. Thank you for your time and interest and may God Bless You!
Mail Contributions to:
HotDogs for the Homeless P.O. Box 30976 Midwest City, Ok 73140