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Tulsa looks to combat homelessness with priority housing program

A homeless man looks for a new place to sleep after Tulsa security officers cleared out a homeless encampment in Tulsa.
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OPMX
A homeless man looks for a new place to sleep after Tulsa security officers cleared out a homeless encampment in Tulsa.

The city of Tulsa wants to get a priority housing program for unhoused people up and running.

The program would initially have 25 rooms in hotels and motels throughout Tulsa that would house people in need of temporary shelter. Participants would eventually be directed to social services needed to get off the streets.

City housing policy director Travis Hulse said the program would initially house more than 100 people per year.

"I’d love for it to be more. We’ll just kind of see how it goes. So once the program’s up and running, we’ll figure that out," Hulse said.

Officials at a city council committee meeting Wednesday confirmed the program would require Tulsa to hire additional positions, but didn't specify how many or how much it would cost.

While councilor Laura Bellis supported the program, she was concerned that it would demand more output from case workers.

"This is an Oklahoma-wide issue where we’re just short on mental health professionals, so I’m just thinking through, this is about to add more. And while the need for temporary housing might go down, the case manager need likely won’t go down," Bellis said.

Bellis suggested identifying ways the city could fund these services.

The presentation given to council on Wednesday outlined details about a low-barrier shelter, which the city hopes to have open in spring 2024. The shelter would not require people who stay there to undergo background checks or drug screening.

"They're our toughest population" to get into housing, councilor Jayme Fowler said of those who would use the shelter.

The city is accepting requests for proposal from groups that could house a low-barrier shelter. Fowler has previously expressed concern that this shelter will not be open for the winter months.

The temporary housing program and low-barrier shelter are part of nine recommendations from the mayor’s office and the city’s housing, homelessness and mental health task force.

This report was produced by the Oklahoma Public Media Exchange, a collaboration of public media organizations. Help support collaborative journalism by donating at the link at the top of this webpage.

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