The City Council on Wednesday approved the allocation of $2 million in federal COVID-19 relief funding, which includes $1.5 million to shelter and serve people without homes.
The $1.5 million will allow two existing programs to continue operating and a third to reopen after its funding ran out.
The three programs are the “quarantine hotel,” operated by City Lights Foundation; the temporary drop-in center and shelter at the old Tulsa County Juvenile Justice Center; and a street outreach program operated by A Way Home for Tulsa.
The 68-room quarantine hotel, the location of which has not been revealed, was opened about three months ago in response to the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic. It serves homeless people who have tested positive for the virus, those who are symptomatic and awaiting test results, and those most vulnerable to contracting the disease who need to be isolated.
The program’s goal is to keep guests safe and healthy while working to get them permanent housing.
Becky Gligo, the city’s housing policy director, said Wednesday afternoon that the CARES Act funding will ensure that the hotel can stay open through the end of the year.
The drop-in center and temporary shelter at the old Tulsa County Juvenile Justice Center on Charles Page Boulevard closed at the end of July after its funding ran out. It will be able to reopen and remain open through the end of the year because of the Council’s vote.
A Way Home for Tulsa — a coalition of agencies that serves people who are homeless — has been providing outreach services for several years. The CARES Act funding will allow the organization to expand its footprint and hire additional staff, Gligo said.
The new funding for homeless programs comes as the city is dealing with a decrease in shelter beds and services caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and the need for social distancing. The result has been more homeless people on the streets.
The situation has gotten so bad that the city is working with the Tulsa Police Department and other organizations to remove homeless encampments along Archer Street, home to many of the city’s social services organizations.
Officer Jeanne Pierce said earlier this week that TPD’s Downtown Impact Team has already begun notifying the people camping along Archer that they have to move on or they could be cited for trespassing.
The city’s Asset Management Department is expected to begin clearing out the encampments next week.
Gligo has said she doesn’t want to see homelessness criminalized and that the city is working as quickly as possible to ensure that those experiencing homelessness have a place to find shelter.
She said Wednesday that it is her understanding that next Tuesday’s sweep of the homeless shelters was still on but that she is hopeful that the old Juvenile Justice Center can be available by then.
“We are still working to get the JJC open so we can give people a place to go,” Gligo said. “As long as we can get all of the legal contracts done, everything else is lined up.”
The city recently received $30.9 million in CARES Act funding from the state. Last week, the council allocated $5.6 million of the money to provide high-speed internet service for low-income families.
In addition to the $1.5 million allocation to address homelessness, the City Council on Wednesday night approved funding for seven other COVID-19-related programs totaling approximately $500,000.
The Mayor’s Office had originally asked the Council to allocate $4.9 million Wednesday, but the two most expensive programs were pulled from the agenda after some councilors asked for more time to examine them to ensure that they were a good use of public dollars and would benefit Tulsans throughout the city.
The programs pulled from the agenda were Retrain Tulsa, a workforce development program that was to have received $1.55 million, and 36DN@CityHall, a business incubation program that would be operated by 36 Degrees North and housed in City Hall. That program was to have received $1.25 million.
The other COVID-19-related programs and services that were funded Wednesday include a remote learning program for children at city recreation centers, enhanced sanitation efforts, financial empowerment centers and financial navigators, and rapid COVID-19 testing.
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