With more than 30 local organizations working together, Tulsa began implementing a five-year strategic plan to reduce homelessness just as COVID-19 hit a year ago. And the pandemic had two obvious effects on the citywide effort.
First, the virus deterred some people from staying in shelters, making Tulsa’s homeless population a lot more visible as tents sprang up on downtown sidewalks and creating the impression that the city’s homeless population had grown almost overnight.
Then the economic impact of the shutdown really did increase the homeless population.
As many as 300 people a month became homeless in Tulsa during the pandemic, said Becky Gligo, executive director at Housing Solutions.
“We do see people newly experiencing homelessness, every single month in Tulsa,” she said.
Gligo left City Hall early last year to take over at Housing Solutions, the lead agency responsible for implementing the strategic plan that she had helped devise as Tulsa’s housing policy director.
In some ways, the timing couldn’t have been worse, as the pandemic obscured the progress Tulsa was making toward providing permanent housing for the homeless. But in other ways it couldn’t have been more fortuitous, Gligo said.
“Ironically,” she said, “the pandemic has really kind of sped up some of our longer term goals, both because of the influx of federal funding and, I think, because of the urgency of figuring out what to do when we have lower shelter capacity.”
Implementing the strategic plan last year, local agencies increased outreach efforts with teams searching the streets seven days a week to offer services to people. Officials opened a landlord-tenant resource center to offer information about the eviction process and alternatives to it. And a 68-room “quarantine hotel” provided a short-term place to stay while officials found permanent housing for more than 930 people.
Ultimately, the goal is to provide long-term housing within the first 30 days of someone becoming homeless, Gligo said.
“That’s probably going to take us our five-year span to achieve, but we’re working toward it,” she said. “Better yet, we certainly want to stop homelessness before it starts.”
Future efforts will include reforming the evictions process and recruiting more landlords into subsidized housing programs, she said.
“It’s going to take all of us,” Gligo said, “to kind of change the systemic inequities to really help homelessness become rare, brief and non-recurring.”
Mayor updates Tulsans on homeless outreach