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Tulsa Public Schools board member lives out experience of students' homelessness

Dr. Jerry Griffin
Posted at 10:02 PM, Mar 22, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-23 08:46:12-04

TULSA, Okla. — Dr. Jerry Griffin of the Tulsa Public Schools board lived homeless over the weekend.

His goal was to learn what the experience is like for about 500 TPS students.

"I learned the difference between sympathy and empathy,” Griffin said.

According to the U.S. Interagency on Homelessness, nearly 26,000 Oklahoma students experience homelessness in a school year, and 1,200 have no place to stay.

“When I learned a few months ago that we have students at Tulsa Public Schools that are homeless, it really grabbed my attention," Griffin said.

Griffin told 2 Works for You there are potentially another 500 homeless TPS students the district doesn't know about because of the pandemic.

"I decided I needed a deeper understanding," he said.

Griffin bought an old jacket, left his keys and wallet at home, and hit the streets to survive. Griffin made a plan to fend for food and warmth in downtown Tulsa on Friday through Monday. He hit a wall five hours in.

"I’m exhausted and I’m tired. I sit down on this rock," he said. "I have no money. I’m hungry.”

He begged for $5 and bought some fast food cheeseburgers and kept moving. But when the sun went down the freeze settled in.

"I didn’t sleep a wink all night because it was so cold," Griffin said. "My hands are still frost-bitten from that."

He found a homeless shelter where he slept at night and spent his days still starving. If not for the kindness of strangers, Griffin said he would not have made it through the weekend.

"I'm just a rag right now," he said. "It’s one thing to understand theoretically, it’s another thing to walk a mile in your shoes.”

And he does not have any schoolwork to worry about.

“How are they doing English?" Griffin said. "How are they studying their math when they’re in this survival state?”

There are questions to be answered and remedied so TPS students can get their diploma and graduate from homelessness.

Griffin reported some of his findings to the TPS school board, Monday night. He wants to find a way for community organizations to adopt homeless TPS students and their families.

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