Thirty-six-year-old oil-and-gas business owner Nathaniel Harding does not deny his privilege. The son of an oil-and-gas tycoon, Harding learned early in life that there are things money can buy and things that can never be paid for.
Money couldn’t, Harding learned, cure his mother, Margo, of a rare brain disease that took her life in September, and it couldn’t prevent his brother from dying in an oil field accident 15 years ago. As much as money helped civilians in Afghanistan build city governments while Harding served there as an Air Force officer in 2012, it couldn’t ensure that the people would continue to govern despite Taliban opposition long after U.S. forces left.
To keep a life, a family and a community running, Harding said, more than cash is required.
“You have to get down to the heart of what is needed,” he said. “Just writing a check becomes pointless when you don’t know who needs the money and what for.”
Harding points to The Foundation for Oklahoma City Public Schools as an example. Through the platform DonorsChoose.org, the foundation works as a liaison between schools and community business leaders by allowing schoolteachers and administrators to post their specific school needs online and to request an amount needed to fill those needs. The foundation then directs community donors to the website where they can choose which campaigns they want to support.
Harding said he volunteers often with the foundation. Doing so has allowed him to witness firsthand the power of community involvement and the growth of a school district his own children attend.
Conducting Point in Time surveys for Homeless Alliance of Oklahoma City has taught him similar lessons.
“Studies have shown that blanket recommendations for homeless populations are ineffective,” Harding said. “You have to ask the people on the street how they got there, what they need, what their story is.”
As a volunteer for the Homeless Alliance, he wakes up before sunrise each week to have those conversations with a population on its knees in Oklahoma City.
He also serves on the advisory board for the MAPS 3 project.
“Investing in all forms of transit is vital for Oklahoma City to continue on its path of progress,” he said.
Harding, his wife Amanda and their three children live in Heritage Hills, a historic preservation community within the boundaries of Ward 6, the ward Harding hopes to represent on Oklahoma City’s city council beginning in February when current Ward 6 councilwoman Meg Salyer will retire.
Recently, Heritage Hills residents have lobbied for additional regulations to be placed upon Airbnb occupants within their neighborhood, a pursuit that has been met with controversy and debate within the halls of city council.
“Concerns are valid on both sides,” Harding said. “But ultimately, residents should get to decide what is best for them and City Council should support that decision.”
Twenty-eight-year-old mental health advocate JoBeth Hamon decided to run for a seat on Oklahoma City’s city council after years of having her boots on the ground and her feet on the pedals.
A resident of downtown Oklahoma City, Hamon has chosen to live carless and instead to use the city’s public transportation systems as a means to travel to work, the grocery store and anywhere else she needs to go within the city.
“I have a driver’s license but not a car,” she said. “I didn’t choose to ride my bike everywhere to make some kind of statement; it’s just a lifestyle I became accustomed to after college.”
Hamon received a degree in family and community services from Oklahoma Baptist University in Shawnee and shortly thereafter moved to Chicago to volunteer at a homeless shelter.
“I grew up in a very rural community,” Hamon, who lived with her Oklahoma-born parents in Oregon as a child, said.
Her parents relocated to Oklahoma after Hamon and her brother moved back to the Sooner State for college.
“Seeing a person push a grocery cart with all of their belongings in it right outside of an upscale restaurant shocked me because I had never experienced that before,” she said.
After years spent advocating for Chicago’s homeless population and now advocating for the homeless in Oklahoma City, Hamon said the juxtaposition still doesn’t sit well with her.
She is now comfortable with homelessness in a way she never expected to be.
“When I started volunteering for homeless shelters, I was excited because I saw myself as having solutions for these folks,” Hamon said. “Now I see myself as one of them.”
While not homeless herself, Hamon said her time spent engulfed in the homeless population has allowed her to believe that homelessness is not always a result of bad decisions but rather of personal trauma left untreated, a lack of education, being unaware of support resources or physical injuries that might have left a person disabled and unable to work.
Today, Hamon works as an education coordinator for the Mental Health Association of Oklahoma. She rides the city bus to and from work each day.
“There’s a stigma still around riding the bus,” Hamon said. “It can be very intimidating for first-time riders. If we are going to invest money into public transportation, I think it’s just as important that we educate the public on how to use it and to remove the idea that the bus is not for everyone.”
Changes that Hamon would like to see include increasing bus pick-up times from every 30 minutes to every 10-15 minutes, a measure she said cities on the rise in other states have taken to support community wellbeing and growth. Other transit improvements Hamon would like to implement include the creation of safer bike-riding trails for residents.
While Hamon believes Oklahoma City is experiencing growth, she said not everyone is a part of it.
“There’s this narrative that Oklahoma City is in a renaissance,” she said. “That may be true, but it’s not the reality for everyone who lives here.”
She said rent burden, where the cost of rent is so high that little money is left each month for other basic needs like food and healthcare, is on the rise.
If elected to represent Ward 6 on Oklahoma City’s city council, Hamon said she hopes to work on creating affordable housing within city limits.
One way she believes the city can see additional revenue while also attracting possible migration into the state is by allowing residents in Heritage Hills and Edgemere Park to operate Airbnbs without heavy restrictions.