Faced with more than a week of subfreezing temperatures, ice and several inches of snow, a cannabis lounge in Wagoner has stepped up to serve as the town’s only warming station and shelter service for the town’s homeless population.
Budz Lounge on Main, 224 S. Main St., began offering shelter and warming services, as well as food, clothing and blankets to those in need on Saturday after a discussion on the town’s Facebook page raised the issue of what was being done to help the town’s homeless population during the deep freeze that has gripped the state over the past week.
Initially, the lounge was offering a public warming station for those who lost power last week, said co-owner Sarah Hutt-Greenman. But when she and her mother Jayne Stiles, who is also a co-owner of Budz and the medical marijuana dispensary next door Flower to the People, saw a Facebook post on Friday asking what was being done for the homeless in Wagoner, they decided to open the lounge as a shelter to begin providing food and clothing to those in need.
“We were watching it unfold on Facebook, people crying out for a need,” Hutt-Greenman said. “We watched it for about half an hour and saw no one step up and said forget that. We’re going to cease anything we were doing in here and step and be what the community needs us to be. We’re going to show what compassion and love look like.”
Though Hutt-Greenman and her mother had worked in social services for years in Wagoner, a town with a population of around 9,000, she said she had no idea there was a significant population of homeless people in the small town.
“We’re a warming station during the day and welcoming any overnight guests if they have a need, food and clothing,” Hutt-Greenman said. “There’s a lot of love.”
Since Saturday, Budz has provided overnight shelter to nine people, and provided food care packages, clothing and blankets to a total of 24 people experiencing homelessness, including seven children, she said. About 20 people per day use the warming station, she said, and some people who are not homeless but are poor have also come by to get needed supplies donated by the community.
“We have people who aren’t necessarily homeless, just in a different economic status, they’re coming in for blankets as well,” Hutt-Greenman said. “It’s not just us. It’s all of us.”
The town does not have a homeless shelter, she said, and there has until now been little in the way of outreach to bring those people out of the cold, and some of those who have sought shelter there have also asked about how to get other services, such as addiction counseling.
“It’s taken days to even get them open front doors, or unzip the tent, to be able to trust us enough to know that we’re here to help,” she said.
Deputy Wagoner Police Chief Tony Ponds said Budz was the only option he was aware of there in Wagoner for people looking for shelter or a public warming station.
“We have people, unfortunately, who don’t have anything,” Ponds said. “We’re just glad Budz stepped up to the plate to do what they did.”
Though urban homelessness is often spotlighted by the government and media, rural homelessness is a real concern, said Gavin Trueblood, a volunteer at Budz and firefighter for the volunteer fire department at Toppers, a small community just east of Wagoner on the shores of Lake Fort Gibson.
Trueblood said there are also homeless people in Toppers, some who camp on U.S. Army Corps of Engineers land around the lake, and that the Toppers Volunteer Fire Department, weather permitting, takes food paid for by a government grant out to some of the people living there on a weekly basis.
“We’ve got families out there who don’t have a way in to town,” Trueblood said. “They’re way out in the woods. You won’t see them.”
Hutt-Greenman said once Budz put out the call that it would be offering services to people experiencing homelessness, the Wagoner community stepped up in a big way.
“This isn’t just us, it’s the entire town of Wagoner,” Hutt-Greenman said. “As soon as we opened up our doors and said ‘alright guys, here’s base,’ the town showed up.”
Donations of coats, other warm clothing, blankets, and food — including home-cooked meals — poured in from the residents of Wagoner, she said, as well as the Toppers Volunteer Fire Department and Toppers Neighborhood watch.
The Wagoner Police Department was also accepting clothing donations in a box in the lobby of the police station, Ponds said, but sent everything it had gathered over to Budz once they offered to provide food, shelter and clothing to those in need.
“Once Budz put out that they were going to house and feed, we transferred everything we had at the police department to Budz shop to accommodate the ones who would be able to utilize them,” Ponds said, “because a lot of times people who are staying out, they don’t frequent the police department often if they can keep from it.”
Budz also partnered with a local nonprofit, Healthy Food for Oklahomans, which is accepting donations for food purchases. The lounge is also hoping to eventually begin a community garden there with Healthy Food for Oklahomans.
Hutt-Greenman said the effort to help the less fortunate in Wagoner probably won’t end once the snow melts and temperatures warm up.
“It really is an issue and it’s going to continue to be an issue even after the snow. There’s a bigger picture here,” she said.
While it may seem unusual for a cannabis lounge to be offering shelter, food and clothing to the homeless, those services are sorely needed in Wagoner.
“We want to show people a different side of cannabis,” ,” Hutt-Greenman said. “We believe in love and unity and all of us elevating to a better place together.”