The beat-up face of a teen-age girl eking out a living
as a prostitute is the face of homelessness that goes unnoticed by many
passersby except her predators.
Woman reflects on difficult
Most of the public views homelessness as a guy
standing with a sign on a street corner that reads, “I'll work for
food.” Though the message may be a scam, it is how the face of the
dispossessed appears for most Oklahomans, said Carl Buckner, program
coordinator of Street Outreach Services (SOS) — a division of Youth
Services for Oklahoma County Inc.
“We don't look at it. We close our
eyes. But these are our children,” Buckner explained. “We are the
richest nation that ever lived on this planet that ever existed in
history. There shouldn't be a homeless person, No. 1, and there
definitely shouldn't be a homeless child.”
Youth Services for Oklahoma County Inc. is a
non-profit community organization located in northeast Oklahoma City. It
advocates, educates, intervenes and counsels youth and families to make
a positive difference in their lives. Buckner's job is to identify the homeless teens and
figure out what they need to get off the streets. His task may seem
daunting, considering more than 200 runaway and homeless teens walk the
metropolitan area in a given day, he said. He identified six homeless
teens in March.
The teenagers share a need for employment,
educational tools and transportation to other problem-solving agencies.
Some homeless Oklahoma City youth have physical or mental disorders such
as bi-polar or schizophrenia. So Buckner offers them a connection with
health care agencies. When police crack down on prostitution, the business
migrates across the metropolitan area. Buckner identified several areas
in Oklahoma City, including truck stops closer to Edmond on Interstate
“Why does anybody turn to that?”
An Edmond man said he has seen prostitutes at truck
stops near Martin Luther King Boulevard and Interstate 40. One appeared
to be a teenage girl, said Andrew Russell, who works as a salesman in
the Bricktown area.
“Why does anybody turn to that?” he said. “Possibly she
was from a broken home and didn't know what else to do. That's my true
feeling. You pull away from looking at someone like that and go, Why
does somebody turn into somebody like that, who maybe has potential?
Then you start thinking about your own kids.”
As a teenager, working as a truck stop prostitute
became dangerously familiar a few years ago for Jessica Longan. Today,
the 21-year-old is willing to speak out about her former life as a
prostitute in order to educate the public about the severity of the
lifestyle. Longan graduated from high school in Perkins in 2000
and two weeks later moved near New York City to work as a nanny. Her
stay was brief. She spoke to a 23-year-old man during a phone call to a
friend in Oklahoma. Marcus, not his real name, convinced her return to
Oklahoma and they lived together briefly in Stillwater. Neither had a job, Buckner said, and they depended on
the income Marcus made as a drug dealer. But they consumed most of the
drugs before they could sell them, leaving them broke.
“I lost my apartment — electric and everything,” Longan said while sitting in Buckner's office at Youth Services.
to move up here (Oklahoma City) with his mom. I got strung out on
drugs.” Her drug of choice was methamphetamine, including “crystal meth,
crank, coke and crack. We got kicked out of his mom's house because she
didn't like the fact that we weren't sharing what we had,” she said.
Life with a pimp
At 18, Longan was homeless. So the couple moved to the
City Rescue Mission in downtown Oklahoma City. At first, Longan thought
she was the youngest homeless person seeking refuge at the shelter. But
she found families there with younger children — some drug addicts.
“(Marcus) would always get kicked out of the shelter,” she said. “I
never got kicked out, so I was always staying there and he'd stay on the
She depended on the shelter sporadically for a year.
She said Marcus was not only a drug dealer, but a pimp. And she began
living with another “dope man” when Marcus went to jail. Buckner said
his arrest was a drug-related charge.
Most teen-age prostitutes don't live in shelters due
to strict curfew rules, Buckner said. They live in motel after motel
with pimps who are often drug dealers, Longan added.
As an 18-year-old prostitute, she frequented two truck
stops near Martin Luther King Boulevard and I-40. Marcus was also a pimp
for three women, she said, and was angry to learn she had used another
pimp to sell her body when he was in jail. Longan said that she twice had sex for money.
“Most of what I did was rip the guys off because I was
too scared,” she explained. She would sell fake drugs to truck drivers.
Then she would quickly jump out of the truckers' cabs and go with Marcus
to purchase genuine methamphetamine to satiate their own drug addiction.
Longan knew two other young prostitutes who solicited
truck drivers and passersby. One had a regular clientele of truck
drivers and another would frequent motels. They never talked about being
afraid — even though they had been beat up, Longan said.
“I was with a pimp. When he went upstairs in some
motel, he beat the girl up because she didn't give him his money,” Longan said.
“I know they got beat up because you'd see bruises.”
Prostitution is easy money when it comes to supporting
a drug habit, she said. And sometimes, it seems the only choice for
survival. Most truck stops have one or two prostitutes in their midst,
she said. As a prostitute, it was easy for Longan to make her
presence known by slowly driving near the truckers. Men would signal
their desire for her by raising a hand or waving.
“You get out and run up to the trucker and say, 'What
do you want? Are you looking for a working girl?”
She tried to be discreet enough to stay away from
business operators because she didn't want them to call the police. When
she was without a car, she would weave in and out between the trucks on
“It's the thrill of the rush — getting away with doing
something like that,” she said.
Change of heart
But Longan soon discovered a clear and present need to
get away from prostitution and Marcus. Her need of him began to
dissolve. She began resisting her pimp's dominant personality after they
lived with Marcus' grandfather for two weeks. Lie after lie became their method of manipulating the
older man to give them money, she added. A seemingly endless array of
cash was needed for buying illicit drugs.
“This man was like 70-something years old,” Longan
recalled. “He's a little old man who has problems anyway, and we kept
him up until 5:30 in the morning.” Finally, the grandfather's sleep
deprivation from only one hour of sleep every night, caused him to wreck
his car. “He hit the side of a building and two other vehicles,” Longan
“He lived. But that day I decided, 'I cannot do this
anymore,' because (Marcus) kept going on. He still wanted to do more. He
still wanted to go out there and run the streets. It wasn't like he
cared about his grandfather.”
“I figured, 'If he doesn't care about his grandfather,
what makes me think he's gonna care about me?” Longan realized she must
care for herself. She had to love herself. Returning to the City Rescue
Mission, Longan met a man at an Alcoholics Anonymous class who cared
about her, she said. Larry helped her untangle her life with the pimp
and the Rescue Mission's work program helped her cessation from drugs.
She shared a room in the shelter with three other females.
Then Longan and Larry rented a one-room apartment near
Northwest Sixth Street and Shartel. And he found work through a
temporary job agency. Her sobriety lasted for two months before she
relapsed back to addiction.
But Longan said she conquered her demons and has since
been sober. “I will always be an addict. Once you do it once, you're
always an addict. I will never be cured no matter how long I am sober. ”
She said God provides her strength for sobriety. “All
I've got to say is ask the Lord to help you. If you don't have Him,
you're not going to get anywhere.”
Off mean streets
Longan and Larry were eating dinner at the shelter
when a 15-year-old girl told them about Buckner.
“I saw Carl one day and I was like, 'Hey, I need
you,” Longan recalled. She learned from Buckner that at 18, she was a
year over the age limit guidelines Youth Services invoked to help
teenagers. Youth Services is a federally and state funded agency that
offers shelter for at-risk youth. And most of the children accepted at
the Youth Services' shelter are referred there by the state Department
of Human Services. Many are in transition as foster children. Longan said she implored Buckner for help. And he was
able to make an exception by providing her with clothing and
transportation to appointments for affordable housing. He helped her
find a job.
“I was always there for her,” Buckner said. “I might
have 15 kids on my case load, but Jessica always knew that maybe if I
can't get you today, I'll be there tomorrow, if I can.” She persevered.
I kept telling Jessica, 'You can do this. You don't have to live this
kind of life. You don't have to be smoking crack and selling your body.
You're attractive. You're intelligent and you've got a lot to offer
life.” And she listened."
Today, Longan has a steady job as a car-hop for an
Oklahoma City Sonic Drive-In. And Larry works as a waiter. “I have a loving man that doesn't force anything onto
me. He's not a drug addict,” she added. Their 7-month-old son, Jordan,
is the focus of her life.
“I will not mess up for him,” Longan said. Homeless
children come from all social stratum, including prominent families in
Edmond. Children in Edmond hurt just as they do in an Oklahoma City
ghetto, Buckner explained.
Running away from abuse
Most men soliciting teenage prostitutes do not appear
as seedy-looking guys just out of prison. Some drive up to a street
corner in a brand new Mercedes. “I've seen it,” Buckner said. “A successful
businessman. He probably had a wife, family, maybe he was a CEO. And he
was looking for a young boy to have fun with.”
The majority of homeless teen-age prostitutes are
white females, Buckner said. But he has also identified a transient
population of young males passing through Oklahoma City to another
“To get money, they'll go over to the gay community on
39th and Penn,” he said. “And they'll hustle and sell their body to get
food and drugs.” Buckner drives through the popular gay bar district at
night, offering condoms to homeless teenagers for protection against
sexually transmitted diseases. He offers them counseling and invites
them for a free HIV and tuberculosis test. Once they realize he is not a
law officer, they usually accept his offer. Buckner said he doesn't pass
judgment on the youth. He doesn't act as a dictator but asks the youth to
make a healthy choice in life. Hardship draws the teenagers to
“It's high-risk behavior, and I just don't want
something bad to happen to you,” Buckner said he cautions them.
A history of child abuse is the root cause for
virtually all teenagers to become homeless, Buckner has learned. Some
teenagers are told to leave home by a parent who wants to protect his
or her own security with an abusive partner, he said.
“There's also the variable that parents are substance
abusers. They may be sexual abusers, emotional abusers. Some kids are
forced to leave, just to get away.”
Parents or other family members embody 87 percent of
confirmed abuse, according to Prevent Child Abuse Oklahoma, a nonprofit
group affiliated with the national organization Prevent Child Abuse
America. Buckner recalled a 14-year-old girl who ran away from
her single mother. She could no longer stand the invasive swarm of
strange men sleeping with them. He had to report the child abuse case to the state
Department of Human Services.
'Look out for your kids'
Longan doesn't blame her parents, she said. Today,
she's grateful they tried to convince her to change. Her father works as
a machine operator and her mother is an office manager. She said her
family taught her right from wrong. She said that she had been naive about the devastating
consequences of drug use. At 15, she smoked marijuana for the first
time. Within three years, she was addicted to methamphetamine. “If there's people out there that's gonna read this
story — that have kids and are doing (drugs) — look out for your
kids,” Longan said. She plans to educate her baby boy about the harms of
alcohol and illicit drugs before he becomes a teenager.
“He's my pride and joy. He's the first thing I think
of when I wake up and the last thing I think of when I go to bed. I love
my little man.”
By James Coburn
8 August 2003