D’Metryus Freeman, 27, is no stranger to homelessness. He remembers living for eight months in a hotel in Virginia. As a young adult in Oklahoma City, Freeman said he lived with family in cars, hotels, shelters, and on the street in between periods where he was able to find housing. He moved into an apartment in northeast Oklahoma City in December with the help of the Homeless Alliance and started a job at Curbside Flowers, which provides employment to people transitioning out of homelessness. 

In an Oklahoma Watch feature “A Mile In Another’s Shoes,” an initiative to center voices that aren’t usually heard or call attention to the plight of those affected by public policy, Freeman reflects on his journey to being able to support himself financially and resources that could help others do the same. 

When I was growing up, I didn’t really see myself as homeless because I was in eighth grade. When we moved to Virginia, we were getting all of our school stuff taken care of and the counselor was like, “Well, in our school district you guys actually qualify as homeless because the hotel isn’t a permanent living space.”

My mom was very much so like, “Do as many after-school programs as you can” because that meant we had the opportunity to maybe get snacks and eat a little bit more. 

I didn’t encounter (homelessness) again until 2016. We lived with my mom for a little bit, but my ex and my mom really did not get along so we had to find somewhere very quickly. We got an apartment again but then whenever we got evicted we ended up going to a local youth shelter, Sisu. 

When you first get into a shelter it’s kind of terrifying. I didn’t have a stigma against homeless people. You don’t know any of those people, you don’t know why they’re there. You don’t know what could be an issue. 

The first night we were in Sisu, we were putting our stuff down, trying to wrap our heads around what was happening. One of the other residents comes over and he’s like, “There’s some froyo in the adult room if y’all want something.” That moment really helped solidify that these are just people who don’t have homes. They are just people in need of some extra compassion and support. 

When you have traumatic experiences you forget things about yourself. And I had forgotten that I loved flowers so much. I got the job (at Curbside Flowers) and when I got in, I just couldn’t stop fawning over every flower. Nine times out of 10, when I’m in the shop, if I pass a flower I’m like, “Oh my God, look at it.”

I had been on the Oklahoma City Housing Authority’s waitlist since like 2017. Me and my ex were working so we weren’t a very high priority. In September, we broke up. In October I ended up getting evicted. Because I have really bad PTSD and depression, the Homeless Alliance was able to verify me as disabled, which ended up bumping me back up onto the waitlist. My case manager had helped me out with an agent at Remax who helped me find this place. 

Getting this place and getting the job at Curbside has been so, so empowering for me. I’ve always had someone else helping me with my income. And now I’m like, “I can absolutely do this.” Now I’m working every week and working three days a week and knocking it out of the park.

Something that would be incredibly helpful is if the state or the city would offer a benefit to homeowners or landlords who have empty units and rent to people experiencing homelessness. Once you are inside and have somewhere warm and safe to sleep, you can start focusing on your recovery. How are you supposed to focus on getting clean if you can’t even focus on being able to sleep?

D’Metryus Freeman examines a wreath he arranged on Jan. 12 for a Homeless Alliance funeral service that weekend. He said he tries to find holes in the arrangement to pack more flowers into. (Ari Fife/Oklahoma Watch)

Ari Fife is a Report for America corps member who covers race and equity issues for Oklahoma Watch. Contact her at (405) 517-2847 or afife@oklahomawatch.org. Follow her on Twitter at @arriifife.

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