Before Marty Peercy became a freelance writer and our columnist covering county and city government, he was the Vendor Program Coordinator for Curbside Chronicle from February 2017 to May 2019.
Here is the first post of a new category called “First Person” where we ask members of the community to write their first-person account of a particular aspect of our City.
Every December 21, people in cities around the world gather in remembrance of people who have died while experiencing homelessness in the year preceding. It is the longest night of the year.
The gathering is a somber reminder of who we’ve lost, and our neighbors who are still suffering the ravages of homelessness. There’s also a tenor of hopefulness, as the nights will now grow shorter, a reminder that we can work to change our community.
This year, representatives of several shelters and partner agencies in Oklahoma City read aloud the names of each person experiencing homelessness who we have a record of passing since December 21, 2018.
When Dan Straughan, Executive Director of the Homeless Alliance, came to the podium to read his list he said, “I’m here because I don’t want these people to be forgotten.”
Shortly into his list he looked directly at me in the back row and said, “High School Football Phenom, Michael Dewayne Boone.”
I’m not exactly sure when I met Mr. Michael. It was years ago. My partner (now my wife) was working at the front desk of the Mental Health Association Oklahoma at the time. Michael’s case manager had her office there. So I met Michael around downtown at some point before he had a place to live.
Michael went to high school at Star Spencer but had been in Oklahoma City since the early 80s after he dropped out of college and washed out of Navy boot camp.
He was a nationally recognized football star in high school, having been recognized by Jet magazine as the Prep Player of the Month. He got a football scholarship to attend the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff.
Michael was very proud of his success at football. He was always ready to tell you about it. Especially that game against Ponca City–who had a very big team at the time, he told me–where he won the game by running in two wildcat touchdowns from far upfield. That got him recognized as KOMA’s high school player of the week.
Serious mental illness, specifically schizophrenia, tends to symptomatize in the late teens and early twenties. Michael told me that the Navy got his medical records confused with a different Michael B and that’s why he washed out.
Michael came back to Oklahoma City and was a welder. A lot of his history is hard to really decipher, of course. Some things he would tell me sounded plausible, others didn’t. I know he worked for a living and paid into the system because he got a monthly check that was significantly higher than what one would get without work credits.
Michael communicated best through writing. His illness sometimes caused him to become agitated. He would often shout at invisible beings who were attacking him “in a spiritual fashion,” he would say.
It was much easier for him to drop off notes to me, or to Ranya [the director], or to Mrs. Meghan and return later to get our “feedback.” He always signed his notes with his full name in a delicate script with the addition of his date of birth, “March 11, 1958.”
He would often visit my wife at her office to use her phone to call me before coming by my office. He was “a very busy man,” after all, and didn’t have time to waste coming by if I wasn’t in my office to help him. Not that he always came to me because he needed help with something. He often just wanted to chat and to ask me for some “knickknacks,” as he called the snacks and chocolates I kept in my office for visitors.
Michael lost his first housing placement because he let some shady people come into his home and they wouldn’t leave. He spent New Year’s Day of 2018 in County Jail. While that is one of the most miserable places in the state, the temperatures that weekend were well below freezing. While some collaborators and I scrambled to figure out a plan for him, we were glad to know he was inside at least.
With the quick thinking of some partners at the Homeless Alliance and MHAOK, we came up with a plan to move Michael into a place that HA could sublet to him. He loved his new place.
Sadly, between his illness and addiction, he just wasn’t able to maintain his home, in spite of the best efforts of his excellent case manager, Amanda.
Michael was served an eviction notice, but he never moved out. He was found dead of an apparent heart attack in February, a few weeks after he was supposed to be out of his duplex.
I take great comfort in knowing that in his last year of life he never had to stay outside. I take comfort knowing that he had friends. I was able to attend his homegoing service. The place was packed to the rafters. A large display outside the sanctuary at the church house had pictures of Michael as a strong young man and a blown-up replica of the page of the Jet Magazine issue that featured him.
Sitting in the back row at 8th Street Nazarene Church on Saturday afternoon, I wept again about the loss of this man who had become my friend, and for the other couple of dozen neighbors who died without secure housing in the last year. I knew some of them. Most of them I’d never met. But this is my community.
This time of year can be challenging for all of us, of course. I hope that we can each take time to recognize those of our neighbors who have so much less than we do. It is my goal in 2020 to do all I can to hear fewer names of those lost come the day of the solstice.
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