In this series, Oklahoma Watch profiles individuals whose quiet struggles in life reflect some of the larger issues facing the state. The series is made possible by a sponsorship from the Chickasaw Nation.
Making a Home in the Midst of Blight
Oklahoma City and Tulsa, and even rural communities, struggle with areas plagued by economic blight. The telltale signs are abandoned homes, schools and other buildings.
Oklahoma City counts 945 abandoned properties, which can lead to lower property values and a hollowing out of once-vibrant neighborhoods, including the near-northeast, predominantly African-American area that is rich with history. This video includes interviews with former state Sen. Connie Johnson, who grew up in the Creston Hills neighborhood, and her brother Wallace Johnson, who still lives there.
Coping With a Scarcity of Food
More than 650,000 Oklahomans, a third of them children, lack reliable access to sufficient food, according to a Hunger Free Oklahoma study. Food pantries like The Urban Mission in Oklahoma City play a vital role in providing resources to people experiencing food shortages.
Uninsured, and Buried in Medical Debt
Oklahoma has the nation’s second highest rate of people without health insurance. Like Tim Cundiff of Stillwater, the uninsured risk financial ruin from a medical calamity.
Cundiff has been uninsured since 2013, when he changed jobs and joined a small local company that does not offer health insurance to its employees. Cundiff said he doesn’t know where to get coverage and does not believe he could afford it anyway based on what his friends pay. He was diagnosed with cancer last year and racked up more than $200,000 in medical bills that he can’t pay. He may have to file bankruptcy.
Paying the Consequences of Deportation
Last year, 266 immigrants were deported from the Tulsa County Jail. In many cases, their families were left behind, dealing with the financial and emotional fallout.
Parenting With a Disability
Guthrie resident Kim Watson overcomes the physical and emotional challenges of parenting with a disability.
Experiencing the Trauma of Eviction
For Oklahomans who fall on hard times, the consequence is often eviction. They fail to pay rent on their houses or apartments, are forced to move out and find themselves in a cyclical housing crisis.
Parents Again, Caring for Children of the Addicted
Oklahoma’s high rate of drug addiction has taken a heavy toll on families, including grandparents and great grandparents. In Dedra Ray’s case, her granddaughter’s drug addiction left Ray to spend retirement raising her great granddaughter.
Aging Out of Foster Care, Confronting the Unknown
Months after his 18th birthday, Joshua Hoaks uses his experience in foster care to face the future. He represents the many young people in Oklahoma whose families tumbled into crisis and lost custody of their children, not to regain them before they reached 18 and aged out of the foster system. According to the Chronicle of Social Change, Oklahoma is one of only three states that doesn’t offer extended care for foster kids who become young adults.
In Grief and Depression, Seeking a Way Forward
Thousands of Oklahomans suffer from depression, sometimes to a debilitating degree. The problem is especially common and invisible among aging residents. Victor Guillermo, 62, of Oklahoma City, an Air Force veteran, has struggled daily with depression since his wife of 23 years, Denise, died in 2011. “I have seen many clinical psychologists, grief counselors, social workers and psychiatrists for my off-and-on depression and anxieties in the past seven years,” Guillermo said. He seeks solace in sports, his faith and his church.
Without a Car, Riding Hours a Day on the Bus
Felicia Jones is one of many Tulsa-area residents who depend on local bus service but struggle to make the system work efficiently for them. Bus ridership in Tulsa and Oklahoma City declined in 2017, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Transit Database. Figures for 2018 have not yet been filed with the agency.
Out of Prison and Reconstructing a Life
Every month, hundreds of Oklahoma inmates who’ve served their time are released from prisons across the state – often given bus fare and sent back to the communities from which they came. But rebuilding a life is challenging. In this video, Robin Wertz, who spent years in prison, talks about her experiences and how, as site director at Exodus House in Oklahoma City, she helps former inmates re-integrate into society.
On the Streets, Bedding Down in the Cold
Fewer people in Oklahoma City are homeless, according to the latest counts. But more spend the nights without shelter, even in winter. So Oklahoma Watch asked those on the streets, “Where do you sleep?”
Dealing With a Gambling Addiction
Nearly eight years into addiction recovery, Nicole Zoellner is still paying off $180,000 in gambling debt.
Videography by Mashiur Rahaman and Whitney Bryen. Produced by Whitney Bryen.