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Unveiling of Tulsa Homelessness Mural Closes Mental Health Awareness Month

Matt Trotter

A mural of a homeless veteran now looms over a Tulsa Arts District alley.

The grizzled man depicted on the side of 11 E Matthew B. Brady Street pushes against the wind a shopping cart filled with items representing causes of his homelessness, including mental illness, addiction and childhood trauma.

"So really, when you think about homelessness, we’re not just talking about it as a separate issue. It’s really, for me, talking about, 'But for fortune, there go I. These things could happen to anybody," said artist and Army Veteran Josh Butts.

The man carries in his pocket lyrics from Bob Dylan's "Idiot Wind," which read, "You’ll never know the hurt I suffered nor the pain I rise above. And I’ll never know the same about you. Your holiness or your kind of love."

"You want people to have a feeling that you’ll never be fully able to empathize with people but there’s a part of our humanity that has to connect with other people, and you can connect with the homeless population. You can do something to affect them," Butts said.

Butts said it can be difficult to hear from veterans who are homeless.

"I’ve talked to guys who’ve been right on the brink of suicide who are currently experiencing homelessness, and you feel helpless yourself because you care about this person. You know how they’re demeaned by their own communities, and you know their stories," Butts said.

Butts teamed up with Mental Health Association Oklahoma on its “Too Big to Ignore” campaign during Mental Health Awareness Month. The campaign called attention to homelessness, mental illness, suicide and incarceration. He painted a mural about suicide prevention earlier in May.

The most recent point-in-time survey found 4,200 Oklahomans are homeless, with nearly 1,100 in Tulsa.

Matt Trotter joined KWGS as a reporter in 2013. Before coming to Public Radio Tulsa, he was the investigative producer at KJRH. His freelance work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times and on MSNBC and CNN.