I-244 & Yale vagrant facility on Council agenda

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Tonight (Thursday, August 7) the Tulsa City Council will reconsider a resolution it passed last week. The resolution, jointly issued with the Tulsa Housing Authority dealt with four lots on the west side of Yale between Admiral Place and I-244, declaring it to be "in the public interest" for TDA to develop the property as part of the "Building Tulsa Building Lives" initiative. Here's the text:



WHEREAS, pursuant to 63 O.S., ยง 1061(b), a joint public hearing was held on July 31, 2008, by the Housing Authority of the City of Tulsa (THA) and the City Council of the City of Tulsa, Oklahoma, to consider new development on the collective properties known as 10 South Yale, Tulsa, Oklahoma; and

WHEREAS, at such public hearing it was determined by a majority of the members of both THA and the City Council that such development is in the public interest.

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED by the City of Tulsa, Oklahoma, and the Housing Authority of the City of Tulsa that it is in the public interest for the Housing Authority of the City of Tulsa, as part of the "Building Tulsa Building Lives" initiative, to develop the collective properties known as 10 South Yale, Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Building Tulsa, Building Lives is an initiative to address homelessness. The website's home page says this:

When homelessness became an issue in the late '70s, the accepted treatments were shelters and meals. And Tulsa provided. But new research points to a new approach - one that manages the symptoms of homelessness more effectively and may be the answer to virtually ending chronic homelessness altogether.

Note the word "chronic" -- this isn't about people who are temporarily in straitened circumstances, but troubled people -- mostly men -- who by reason of mental illness or addiction can't function in a society that requires a degree of personal responsibility. Some of these people want to be helped, and organizations like John 3:16 Mission work to rebuild their lives. Other organizations simply provide food and shelter without no strings attached. Some homeless people aren't allowed in the shelters because they won't follow rules or because they may be a danger to others.

Some of the people we're talking about aren't really homeless. They're what an earlier time called transients. They have a home, but they don't need or want something that they have to take care of. They just need an inexpensive place to sleep and keep their things. There used to be accommodations that catered to them -- bedsits, single-room occupancy (SRO) hotels -- a cheap place to sleep, maybe a sink in the room, and a bathroom down the hall. Such places used to be plentiful in downtown. The Downtown YMCA is about the only place left like that, and it's inconveniently close to the BOK Center. It's slated to close by 2010, in part because of new fire regulations that would require expensive renovations to the building. Here's what will replace the Y:

The program would provide a basic housing unit to each chronically homeless person and then surround that person with support services to work on personal issues. Housing would be provided with no strings attached.

The 52-year-old downtown YMCA, 515 S. Denver Ave., has 168 housing units. About 140 men, many of whom have been homeless or trapped in a cycle of chronic homelessness, now live there.

The Zarrow Families Foundation has provided funding for a full-time caseworker at the YMCA to locate housing options for the residents.

The Mental Health Association in Tulsa has been leasing a floor at the YMCA building to provide 25 units in its Safe Haven housing program.

Executive Director Mike Brose said the association is looking for other housing options, adding that "the closing provides the community an opportunity.

"That opportunity means finding ways to replace those units with housing that is not overly congregated -- more scattered sites and that will work much better and be more appropriate for individuals who stay there," he said.

The "Building Tulsa" page reveals a key piece of the agenda:

The opening of the BOK Center and other Vision 2025 projects are important components in securing the economic future of downtown Tulsa. But before downtown can become the vibrant destination it has the potential to be, developers and investors must be assured of its inviting and family-friendly environment.

Eliminating homelessness will attract further development and investment to downtown.

In other words, get the aggressive panhandlers and other unsightly vagrants out of sight, so that people won't be deterred from coming downtown.

I'm not sure what Tulsa Housing Authority plans for I-244 and Yale, except that it's intended to serve the "chronic homeless." I'm not sure the City Council knew what they were being asked to vote on last week.

Because there was no zoning change, there was no public notice to surrounding property owners. I understand the desire to clear vagrants out of downtown, but putting them next to three residential neighborhoods isn't good for the surrounding neighborhoods or for the vagrants, who need access to social services and the bus network. It also seems to be a non-strategic use of one of the interstate gateways to Expo Square -- visitors coming to Expo Square from east and north of Tulsa or from the airport take I-244 to Yale.

We need to support those who are providing help to those who can't cope with daily life, but when a public body like THA is involved, we need to have full public disclosure and debate of what help is provided and where.

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Floyd said:

I'm trying to think of a good spot that would make more sense that the one proposed. Maybe in the Mohawk Park area, where the city has lots of real estate and there is transit access?

Jeff Shaw Author Profile Page said:

Every city has homeless people. Most of them are in downtown areas, I presume. I assume there has to be some precedent on how to take care of the downtrodden (they are people). And I just want to make an observation:

These people are often dirty, they don't have the greatest social skills in the world, and there are usually mental health issues involved. But I've been working downtown for 15+ years, I hang out at the bus stops, and I was raised near downtown (it was my playground as a kid), and in all that time I've never had a problem with homeless people. If I have some money, sometimes I give it to them, most of the time I just say no and pass on by. I can understand to the faint of heart that these people might distress one's sensibilities, but trust me they are in worse shape. Most of them couldn't hurt a flea if they wanted.

I'm embarrassed that our local government doesn't possess any better solution than further displacement. There is a high probability that these unfortunate people will migrate downtown regardless of where they are shacked-up - Downtown is where their constituency is.

gary Brumley said:

A city is only as good as its humanitarian practices. The Mental Health Association is a city treasure that is a respected model for helping the mentally and physically disabled. Professional Mental health people come from all over the United States to observe Tulsa as a model program and the success it has had in helping the homeless become more independent. It is a known fact that many homeless are veterans of foreign wars. The Mental health Association are on the front lines assisting Veterans. No one is exempt from the fact that there are homeless people and that there is a need for community spirit to help those in need. Tulsa has been granted money to build new housing for a small percentage of screened individuals who show a will to do something with the abilities they do have. Many homeless know how to use computers and they use the library for research and locating jobs. Portraying the homeless as a "gang" of bad people is inaccurate.

Gary, you write, "Many homeless know how to use computers and they use the library for research and locating jobs." So why are the Tulsa Housing Authority and the Mental Health Association moving these people farther away from the library and the transportation system that can take them to those jobs? Because they believe the homeless are a "gang" of bad people who will clutter up the view of the BOK Center.

Islander Author Profile Page said:

In everything I've seen posted about that agenda item, there is never a reference to the $4 million dollars from the state, which is what the council actually voted on. Saying in the resolution that it is in the public interest, doesn't tell me anything. Was there any public interaction regarding spending my state tax dollars (which by the way are from allocations of $2 million each over two state legislative sessions) before the council meeting of 7/31/08?

The Mental Health Association performs a necessary and useful service. I'm not sure what the mandate is for the Tulsa Housing Authority. They seem to be involved in a variety of programs.

When public entities, like the THA, chose to not use common logic and Christian values to let people know what's going on, it leaves an impression of not doing the right thing, whether their overall goal is good or not.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on August 7, 2008 12:21 PM.

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