To have and have not

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This week's column in Urban Tulsa Weekly is an expansion upon my blog entry from last weekend about the efforts by "not-in-my-back-yard" downtown interests to relocate the homeless and indigent away from downtown.

Coincidentally, in this same issue there's Brian Ervin's profile of Steve Whitaker, head of John 3:16 Mission. Here's how he describes the work of John 3:16 Mission.

"The people that I take care of live by the law of the streets, and the law of the streets is very much Darwinian in that it is the strongest that survive," said Whitaker. "But, the John 3:16 Mission is part of God's peaceful kingdom. We're here to love those people back to wellness--to create a loving, caring, nurturing environment for people that are addicted or mentally ill or homeless just by bad luck, to get back on their feet and find their life again."

John 3:16 Mission has had its own encounter with the downtown NIMBYs (emphasis added):

A pervasive attitude of "Not In My Back Yard" is behind efforts to derail his planned expansion of the 56-year-old Mission, he told UTW.

The city's Board of Adjustment granted permission for the expansion in February, but a group of downtown businesses and residents have appealed the decision in the courts.

Their position is that the Mission and other services in the area are attracting the homeless and drug-addicted and threatening the safety and success of ongoing downtown revitalization efforts.

But, Whitaker said it's downtown itself that's attracting them, and that without the Mission and other services to the needy, they would have nowhere else to go, and would be a much more visible problem than they are now (See "No Rest for the Weary" in our Jan. 24-30, 2008, issue at for some of the early details).

"There is an assumption that this clustering of services in downtown Tulsa is harmful, but people have forgotten history. They've forgotten what happened almost 20 years ago when there was a move afoot to put John 3:16 and the Day Center and the Salvation Army and the jail all in the same area," he said. Whitaker said downtown urban settings, and not services for the homeless, are what attract homeless people: the alleys provide places to sleep and hide and dumpsters to dig through for food or other salvageable items.

"A walkthrough of every city's downtown in America will prove that they are homes for homeless, and if this city's not proactive about treating its homeless population, then all of our dreams for an entertainment district are going to be spoiled, and homelessness will be a true blight then," he said.

(The profile is well worth reading -- covering Whitaker's background in North Tulsa, his martial arts training, how he came to be involved at John 3:16, and his thoughts on homelessness in Tulsa, racism, and the north/south divide.)

In my op-ed, I call attention to a New York City organization called Common Ground which helped reduce the homeless population in Times Square by 87% in two years, not by shipping them out to suburban subdivisions in Queens or Bergen County, but by providing "supportive housing" for them in a renovated hotel in the heart of the Theater District, where they have access to jobs and transportation:

Acquired by Common Ground in 1991, the Times Square is the largest permanent supportive housing project in the nation. A once-stately neighborhood fixture that had fallen into serious disrepair, Common Ground carefully preserved the building's historic character while redeveloping it into housing for 652 low-income and formerly homeless individuals and persons living with HIV/AIDS.

The Times Square combines permanent affordable housing with a range of on-site social services provided by Common Ground's social service partner, the Center for Urban Community Services. Individualized support services are designed to help tenants maintain their housing, address health issues, and pursue education and employment. On-site assistance with physical and mental health issues and substance abuse is available to all tenants, six days a week. Property management services, including 24-hour security, are provided by Common Ground's affiliated not-for-profit property management company, Common Ground Community.

Common Ground's Tenant Services staff offers programs and activities to enhance a sense of community, e.g., a six-week financial literacy workshop, a community health fair, and workshops covering topics such as portrait drawing and cooking. Common areas include a garden roof deck (available for rent to the public); a computer laboratory; a library; an art studio; a medical clinic; 24-hour laundry facilities; a rehearsal space featuring floor-to-ceiling dance mirrors and a piano; and an exercise room.

Richard L. Jones has posted a lengthy comment on my article from his perspective as a pastor who works with the homeless downtown. It's worth reading in its entirety. It includes this funny, pointed analogy:

And to the "powers that be" in Tulsa, when are you going to follow the lead of successful cities that have centralized services for the homeless, and begin to provide real solutions to the problem instead of trying to shuffle them around the city like spreading the peas out on your plate that you didn't want to eat so it that looks like you did?...

Instead of kicking the homeless when they are down, let's all work together to help bring them some dignity and assistance in getting the help they need to break free from the cycle of despair. Basic human services and health care in a more centralized environment would be a good place to start.

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Pamela said:

They don't do this because they want to kick the homeless to the curb. These people are not stupid. They could have gone through the same process they supposedly did when they went jet-setting to other cities to review ball parks. They know that the homeless tend to congregate downtown just like most people.

Only a change of heart will help our situation. The love of money is way too deep.

Jeff Shaw Author Profile Page said:

All this is very sad. It makes me a little uneasy to think that we can shuffle people around like this. There is no doubt that these people need some help. I'll say it again, it smacks of bigotry. I think it goes way beyond a NIMBY battle.

The Chinese made all their undesireable people leave Beijing so they could have a nice clean city. How is this different?

Lastly, there are many many many vacant buildings in the downtown Tulsa area. Surely one of these could be retrofitted.

We need to meet these people where they are, mentally and physically. You can't exile them to a neighborhood and pretend everything is going to be ok. It won't be.

People downtown expect to have homeless to deal with. We know how to deal with them, and they know how to deal with us.

Whitecityres said:

Other MHA properties appear to be in good order and well maintained.
Far better than the miles of pipe fence constructed by ,city sanctioned, used car dealers on eleventh street between Memorial and Lewis.

The privately owned Cedars apartment complex, on 12 Th. and Erie, is a constant eye sore and a source for numerous working ladies that frequent the neighborhood.

I guess we Whit City residents are just a little concerned what would happen when the mentally ill at 10 south Yale mix with our prostitutes on 11 TH Street.We are concerned citizens.

Jus sayn, we have worse issues than a few guys that probably really would rather live downtown.

There is the distinct possibility these tenants will move back downtown , and live around the new ball park, if they can't survive without the services offered by John 316 and others.

The recall of Gomez for this issue is ridiculous.

The issues in this area are the result of past city councils, board of adjustment and area residents complacency regarding code enforcement of unkempt properties.

The new ball park dealings and the reason for relocating these individuals is an issue that will difficult to get to the bottom of for sure.

Slappedtulsacitizen said:

Anyone affected by this and would like to join our group opposed to this facility and working to recall the councilmen, should visit www whoownstulsa dot org. Sign up for updates and how to sign the petition.

Candy Ogden said:

I am just curious... Has anyone queried the homeless population that the city is trying to move out of downtown? Is is possible that THEY feel like Tulsa is displacing them? That Tulsa may be trying to drop kick them into someone else's "yard" (as opposed to NIMBY)?

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on August 14, 2008 12:50 PM.

Street tax -- where's the bid basis? was the previous entry in this blog.

Hot Club of Cowtown, Brave Combo coming to Tulsa is the next entry in this blog.

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