NORMAN — The sun began to set, the temperature began to drop and two men rolled out their sleeping bags Sunday in a wooded area in east Norman to prepare for the night.
Dusty Buff, lead pastor of Grace Church, and student pastor Philip Nguyen plan to spend the next 10 days homeless. No food, no money, no shelter.
The only items they carried were sleeping bags, a change of clothes, their Bibles, two forms of ID and their cell phones in case of an emergency. This journey is one they hope will help those who really are homeless.
“The homeless community has been on my heart for years now,” Buff said.
After serving at Food and Shelter in Norman for several years, Buff said he wanted to take on this journey to better relate to those who are homeless.
“I felt like we were just putting a Band-Aid on things,” he said. “I wanted to understand what it (homelessness) is to find out how to meet their needs better.”
Nguyen said that in order to better understand something, sometimes you have to experience it. He is ready to meet the homeless where they are to help better address their needs.
“A situation is only as bad as you see it,” he said. “I’m ready to get my world rocked.”
Earlier that day, Grace Church celebrated their one-year anniversary. They celebrated, baptized some people, ate some cupcakes and then they left everything behind, Buff said.
Now they don’t know when their next meal will be. Buff said he knows the shelter in Norman serves breakfast and/or lunch, so that is where they will start. He also hopes to find out what other opportunities there are by talking to the people there.
The lead pastor wants to build relationships, hear people’s stories and experience what homeless people go through on a daily basis. The two plan on checking out the Salvation Army to see what kind of challenges individuals encounter whenever they need a place to stay and what happens if they are unable to get in.
“We don’t want to take up their resources,” Buff said. “We don’t want to take a bed from someone who desperately needs a bed for the night.”
They do, however, want to know what it is like for those having to go through it. Talking to some people, Buff said some have to go find a place to sleep after dark and leave before sunrise so people will not know they are there. Some also have to move locations a lot.
“We don’t know where we’ll be tomorrow,” he said.
The two will also be checking out what it is like to try and get a job as a homeless person when all you have are the clothes on your back.
“We want to know what it’s like to apply for a job when these are your interview clothes,” Buff said.
He said they also want to experience what kind of reactions they will get when they do that. Not only that, but when you’re staying so far away from food and work, if you do get a job — and have no transportation — they want to know what kind of effect it will have.
The pastor said they also have to think about how they spend their time — where they have to be at certain times to get food versus trying to find a job or land a job. Buff said he also wonders what some might spend their first paycheck on.
He also wonders, if worse comes to worse, how people ask a complete stranger for help.
“Do you ask a complete stranger for help?” he said. “Because there’s definitely a pride factor involved.”
One of the biggest challenges Nguyen will face is juggling being homeless for 10 days with school. As a full-time student at OU, there are some things he cannot miss, although he said his teachers have all been very supportive about the decision to do this.
Nguyen said he once heard a statistic that somewhere around 600,000 individuals under the age of 24 identified with being homeless, which is the age of the average American student.
The two men will do daily video diaries to document their experiences. Their videos can be found at www.facebook.com/gracechurchnorman.