Urban Tulsa Weekly: August 2008 Archives

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 www.urbantulsa.com 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.

Tulsa's EKG

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This week's column in Urban Tulsa Weekly concerns the survey of 1000 Tulsans for PLANiTULSA, the effort to develop Tulsa's first comprehensive plan in over 30 years.

Collective Strength conducted in-depth interviews with 90 civic leaders (including me) and then a lengthy survey by telephone with 1,000 Tulsans. Here is a link to the "pre-final" summary of the research, presented last month by Collective Strength's Robin Rather. That document includes summary crosstabs by region and by race for many of the questions. Full crosstabs are due to be posted later in August.

Here's one highlight from the column:

Despite the broad agreement over priorities, the survey revealed a widespread perception of a disconnect between leaders and citizens. These problems were felt most keenly in north, east, and west Tulsa.

"City leaders in Tulsa understand my community's needs." Fifty-two percent of Midtowners and 48 percent of south Tulsans agreed with that statement, but only 27 percent of Northsiders and Westsiders did. Citywide, the statement polled 39 percent agreement, a stunning statement of no confidence in city leadership.

"I do not feel included in the planning process. People like me are always left out." Majorities agreed in north (59 percent), east (52 percent), and west Tulsa (51 percent). Fewer than a third of Midtowners (32 percent) and Southies (31 percent) agreed. Sixty percent of non-whites agreed, versus 38 percent of whites. Forty-four percent was the overall total.

"I'm concerned the plan will be too influenced by those who have a lot of money." Seventy percent of Tulsans agreed with that statement, which received strongest support from Northsiders (80 percent), Westsiders (74 percent), and Eastsiders (71 percent). The statement received a lower level, but still a majority, of support in south Tulsa and Midtown--about 60 percent.

The gap between Midtown and south Tulsa on the one hand and north, west and east Tulsa is not surprising. Maps of election results showing support for various tax increases, of where appointees to city boards and commissions live, and of those selected to the PLANiTULSA Advisers and Partners reveal a common pattern.

I've labeled it the "Money Belt"--a band of Tulsa's wealthiest neighborhoods running south-southeast from downtown through Maple Ridge, Utica Square, and Southern Hills then fanning out into the gated communities of south Tulsa.

It's unfortunate that survey responses were classified by zip code only. It would have been interesting to see responses by square mile or by precinct to see if the Money Belt pattern held up.

How to plug north, east, and west Tulsa into the city's collective decision-making process, how we create an infrastructure for civic dialogue is something that will need to be addressed as the planning process moves forward.

Rather called the skepticism about carrying out the plan "pervasive." It came up both in the in-depth interviews and in the broader survey polling. She said, "A lot of people feel like it doesn't matter how you plan. Folks that have a lot of money, or a lot of influence get to do what they want."

Rather characterized what she was hearing from Tulsans about the planning: "We engage in the public process, we go to these meetings, we do the hard work, but at the end of the day our expectations are not met." She urged action to ensure that this plan has a real chance to avoid that fate.

Maybe the most hopeful sign was that there was near-unanimous agreement with this statement: "Assuming people like me participate in the plan and the plan is carried out fairly by the city, I think Tulsa will change for the better as a result of it." Ninety-one percent of Tulsans concurred, with no significant variation across the city.

But there are two very big assumptions in that statement.

Be sure to read the whole thing.

By the way, the Urban Tulsa archives are offline for some reason and have been for about a week. Whatever it was that used to point from the new server back to the old server is broken. Hopefully, that will be fixed soon.

MORE: In the comments, S. Lee makes his point with a memorable metaphor:

The reason various parts of town feel left out is because they are (duh!). The problem with these "plans" is there isn't enough money to do spiffy projects all over the city. So, depending on who is in charge, their favorite part of the city gets the attention. A bundle of money gets dumped into a fraction of a percent of the city while the rest gets to put up with continued neglect of the fundamentals -- roads, crime, schools. The expensive projects are the equivalent of putting a truly lovely picnic table in the middle of a 40 acre pasture full of waist high weeds and cow manure. Most people would gladly forego the gorgeous picnic table if the pasture were kept mowed and reasonably free of manure. There's too much preoccupation with the latest "progressive" picnic table, and not enough mowing and scooping.

About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Urban Tulsa Weekly category from August 2008.

Urban Tulsa Weekly: July 2008 is the previous archive.

Urban Tulsa Weekly: September 2008 is the next archive.

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