Homeless Count

A man lies in his encampment under the Interstate 244 Bridge over the Arkansas River earlier this month. Homelessness remained relatively flat in Tulsa this year with an annual headcount finding 1,188 individuals staying in shelters or living on this streets, officials said Tuesday. MIKE SIMONS/Tulsa World

Homelessness remained relatively flat in Tulsa this year with an annual headcount finding 1,188 individuals staying in shelters or living on the streets, officials said Tuesday.

That was 3% higher than 2019’s headcount but within the range of normal fluctuations, officials said. However, while the numbers have only now been released, the headcount was taken in late January, before the COVID-19 pandemic hit Oklahoma. It remains to be seen what effect virus-related shutdowns have had on local homelessness, said Rhené Ritter, grants and funding coordinator for Housing Solutions Tulsa.

“We know, at least, that it has caused more of a burden on service providers,” Ritter said, noting that social service agencies are trying to deliver aid directly to people on the street instead of trying to bring them into shelters, as would normally be the goal.

More than 1 in 5 homeless people have at least part-time or seasonal work, according to the headcount. Nearly half have experienced domestic violence, and 1 in 3 cited domestic abuse as the direct cause of their homelessness.

Once a year, along with other major cities across the United States, Tulsa sends out several teams of social workers to literally count everybody who’s sleeping on the streets, staying in shelters or living in transitional housing.

It offers only a “snapshot” of homelessness on one particular night — in this case, the night of Jan. 23 — and therefore doesn’t reveal the full scope of the problem, Ritter said.

During the course of a year, about 5,000 people will experience homelessness in Tulsa, roughly five times the number of homeless individuals on any given night, Ritter said.

“Although just a snapshot,” she said, “it helps us identify trends and needs for housing.”

For example, this year’s study revealed that more than 4 in 5 homeless individuals around Tulsa became homeless in Oklahoma, helping debunk a common myth, Ritter said.

“There’s a myth — and you find it nationwide, really — that ‘we’re busing in our homeless because we have such great services,’” she said. “But the data doesn’t reflect that.”

Technically known as a “point-in-time” count, the study influences the allocation of federal funding and helps Tulsa identify “focus areas,” said Jeff Hall, A Way Home for Tulsa Leadership Council president and vice president of strategic planning and intergovernmental affairs for the Tulsa Housing Authority.

“We also understand the challenges we’re seeing today as a result of the pandemic,” Hall said, “and our organizations are continuing to work diligently on unique COVID challenges while still focusing on youth, family and veteran homelessness.”

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Michael Overall 918-581-8383


Twitter: @MichaelOverall2

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