While many homeless shelters in Tulsa have room for people needing a place to stay, many homeless Tulsans are still choosing to live outside instead of taking advantage of the services available.
According to John 3:16 Mission, its shelter has plenty of room for people in need. However, CEO Reverend Steve Whitaker believes homeless encampments have become a nationwide phenomenon.
Folks in the Tulsa area are calling the stretch of sidewalk near Archer and Elwood, “Tulsa’s Skid Row.”
“It sucks, we can do a lot better than this, especially when it’s raining it’s kind of hard.”
Stephanie Powers has lived in Tulsa since 2014 and said COVID has made her situation even more difficult.
“Once the pandemic is over, they can open up the doors more and let the homeless in, we will be less homeless out here,” Powers said.
But according to Major Mark Harwell at the Salvation Army, the issue is much bigger than just shelters allowing more folks to stay inside.
“What we are seeing today is really at their election, they are choosing to be at a camp, there is room, there is capacity in our shelter network,” Major Harwell said.
Major Harwell said they’re operating at 50 percent capacity. He said they are continually monitoring vaccination rates among the homeless, which will determine when it’s best to go back to normal capacity. He said the number of people stays at this encampment in downtown Tulsa has greatly fluctuated during the pandemic.
“The struggle that shelters are dealing with is wanting to engage with those that have elected to stay at a camp, to get them into a shelter to participate in case management programs,” Major Harwell said.
Tulsa Day Center, Executive Director, Mack Haltom, said while they’re not back to full capacity either, but at times there is still room for people looking for a place to stay. They have room for up to 80 people during the day looking for basic services like showers, clothing, and case management services. At night there is space for 65 people.
Major Harwell said it wasn’t just COVID that exposed them to services available, but also our recent winter weather.
“There are more people today who are in camps that have an awareness of the programs available to them,” said Major Harwell.
Powers said she’s trying to get her birth certificate and her ID renewed, so she can look for housing.
“Sometimes there is a lot of fighting going on, that’s why I try to stay to myself,” Powers said.
The Tulsa Day Center is partnering with Housing Solutions to provide housing to those at the encampment.