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City to remove homeless encampments along Archer Street

City to remove homeless encampments along Archer Street

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The city is working with the Police Department to remove the growing number of homeless encampments along Archer Street north of downtown, the city’s housing director said Monday.

“I do know that we have been having conversations with both service providers in the city and Tulsa Police Department for quite some time now on how we are going to address the rising number of unsheltered, homeless individuals as the shelters themselves have to let less people in because of physical distancing,” said Becky Gligo.

Gligo said the city’s Asset Management Department is working with the police to coordinate the removal process and that it was her understanding that TPD’s first sweep through the area would be Sept. 8.

Officer Jeanne Pierce, however, said TPD’s Downtown Impact Team has already begun notifying the people experiencing homelessness living along Archer that they have to move on.

“All I know is that our Downtown Impact Team is in the process of warning these individuals who are living in these encampments that they are going to be cleaned up soon and if they don’t leave, they will be cited,” Pierce said. “… That is what we are doing currently.”

Police will go back to the area a second time to check on whether the homeless have moved on, Pierce said, and if they have not, they could be cited for trespassing.

“And the Asset Management will come at another time — from what I understand is next week — they come out and pick up all the trash and debris that gets left there,” she said.

Pierce and Gligo indicated that the city is acting in response to complaints about the growing number of people experiencing homelessness living along Archer Street and in other parts of downtown. Archer Street is home to Iron Gate soup kitchen and food pantry, The Salvation Army, The Day Center for the Homeless and the Family Center for Juvenile Justice. The county jail is also in the area.

The city is working with social service providers to get the old Tulsa County Juvenile Justice Center on Charles Page Boulevard reopened by Sept. 8 so it can be used for temporary housing and as a drop-in center. The facility was used for that purpose earlier in the year but was shut down because of a lack of funding. It can safely serve about 150 people a day and house up to 55 overnight, Gligo said.

“I think I have been pretty clear that I don’t think we should be criminalizing homelessness,” Gligo said. “My hope is we have a place to send people on to so they are not impacted.”

The city’s last point-in-time homeless count, conducted earlier this year, found that there were 266 Tulsans chronically unsheltered, Gligo said. And the number has not necessarily changed significantly, despite what some people might think.

“Everybody thinks we’re getting all these new people experiencing homelessness; they are not,” Gligo said. “They are just people who previously could be in the shelter but now can’t.”

The growing number of encampments is the result of COVID-19, which has limited the number of people shelters can serve, Gligo said.

“The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) guidance is that they have to allow for physical distancing within the shelters, which would mean six feet apart per bed, which means that they have to take their ... shelter count down by 50% to achieve that,” she said.

In 2018, city and county officials working with philanthropic organizations helped negotiate a deal to relocate Iron Gate to county land on Archer Street.

Advocates for the Archer Street location, including the city and the county, argued in part that building the new Iron Gate near other social services on Archer would eliminate the need for Iron Gate’s clientele to walk through downtown to get assistance.

But it is that exact nexus of social services agencies along Archer Street that is now the focus of the city’s effort to disperse the unsheltered people.

“That is the struggle, right,” Gligo said. “They are not getting services by sleeping on the sidewalk, and there is a general lack of dignity and care that comes with people being forced to sleep outside like that.

“I certainly don’t want people pushed out of the Archer corridor, but if they come to the Archer corridor, I think it is important that they can receive services, and right now they can’t. That’s why I think it is so important that we can get this new drop-in center so folks can be both adjacent to the shelters but also receive those services that they so desperately need.”


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Kevin Canfield

918-581-8313

kevin.canfield@tulsaworld.com

Twitter: @aWorldofKC

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