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Downtown Tulsa's 'tent city' seems to be growing again as homeless encampments close down in other areas
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Downtown Tulsa's 'tent city' seems to be growing again as homeless encampments close down in other areas

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Downtown Tulsa’s homeless encampment seems to be growing again, rebounding from a cold snap that reduced the “tent city’s” population earlier in the year, officials said.

Roughly 36 people are camping this week on the sidewalks along Archer Street and Elwood Avenue in the northwest corner of downtown, near The Salvation Army and other social service agencies, officials said.

That’s fewer people than last September, when Tulsa police told campers to “move on” after receiving numerous complaints from the public, officials said. But the encampment has grown since February, when dangerously cold weather pushed many of the campers into shelters, officials said.

The sidewalk camp’s visibility makes the city’s homelessness problem seem worse than it really is, said Becky Gligo, executive director of the nonprofit Housing Solutions. Other homeless encampments have disappeared from underpasses, wooded lots and other less-visible places, she said.

“It got smaller, and then it got bigger again because of the displacement from other parts of town,” Gligo said. “What happens is that people who are unable to access the shelters will often camp in that area because they can still access services. So they can get food, water, case management, even if they can’t get into the shelter itself.”

People have their own reasons for not using the homeless shelters, some of which are a very short walk from their tents.

“The answer varies based on each individual person,” Gligo said. “It could be the presence of a pet. It could be not being able to access the shelter with your significant other. It can be complex, and it depends on the person.”

Officials hope to avoid another sweep of the area by police, she said. Outreach teams visit the camp every day to offer help in finding shelter, and officials are working to place the campers at the Hotel to Housing facility near 41st Street and Garnett Road as rooms become available.

But as people move out of the encampment, others move in, she said.

“These are folks that were in other places in the city, so what you’re seeing is not a new problem,” Gligo said. “It’s just a concentrated area. And we’re working to get them connected to services and housing.”

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Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum said 250 people from encampments had found shelter through the efforts.

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