Helping individuals experiencing homelessness in Tulsa is not just about the costs to our community or how Tulsa looks to visitors and prospective businesses…it is the right thing to do. And it is something we can accomplish together.
It takes a collective effort to fight problems as complex and difficult as homelessness and mental illness. Tulsa – through our business and community leaders, nonprofit agencies, volunteer base, information-sharing, and policy-making – is coming together to work on solutions.
Theoretically, Americans are only one paycheck away from living on the street. As all of us know, America’s economy has had its ups and downs in recent years. The great recession created new challenges, including increasing numbers of individuals and families experiencing poverty and homelessness.
And sometimes it takes one health diagnosis (and the bills that follow) to force someone out of his home. It’s a scary thought.
It’s also a scary thought that a healthy, active teenager could be diagnosed with a several mental illness in her early 20s, be unable to find the right treatment, and ultimately turn to the streets and self-medication. Or what about the veteran who has served our country and returns with untreated post-traumatic stress disorder? Or the teenager turned out of the home for being transgender? Or the woman who escapes her abusive spouse with only her children and one small bag of clothes?
There are many reasons someone may experience homelessness – whether it is “couch-surfing” for one night or living on the streets for 20 years. But the fact is, many people – even if we sympathize or donate to the local shelter – believe the person on the street ended up there at his or her own fault.
People experiencing homelessness are three times more likely to die than the general population across all age groups and often die from illnesses that can be treated or prevented.
No matter how someone loses his or her home, he or she is our fellow Tulsan. It is on all of us to be respectful, make eye contact, and offer assistance in the form of making a call or providing a phone number to services (not cash).
When the community cares about addressing the issue of homelessness and when they share information about Tulsa’s efforts to do so, we can make a real impact – together.
Please utilize the following templates and guidelines for your businesses and organizations to help increase understanding and sensitivity around individuals experiencing homelessness.
It is possible non-threatening individuals experiencing homelessness may present themselves at our doors seeking assistance. Our desire is to treat these guests with respect while also being mindful of the safety of our employees. We recommend the following guidelines in how we respond in these visits:
Of course, in the case of an emergency or life-threatening situation, immediately call 911.
If you’re experiencing any issues and have questions about what to do, reach out to [name/contact].
Does your office have a reliable screening process for visitors? You may have an existing HR policy about solicitors and non-employees entering restricted areas, but we encourage you to also think about how your front desk person and other employees handle encounters with individuals experiencing homelessness.
The following are sample policies regarding unauthorized visitors:
Our company does not allow unauthorized visitors of any kind, particularly beyond the borders of our entrance/front desk.
If an unauthorized visitor enters the building/door, remain professional but please ask him or her to leave immediately. If you determine the visitor poses a physical or verbal threat, contact the HR department or call 9-1-1.
If you believe the unauthorized visitor is experiencing homeless and is seeking food or shelter, please refer the person to a local shelter.
This is a private building / place of business, but we have visitors who enter and leave the building throughout the day. However, some of those visitors may be unauthorized, and it is important for the safety of our workplace environment that all employees know the steps to dealing with unauthorized visitors.
Determine if a visitor is authorized or expected in your workplace. Do not make assumptions. You have the right to ask for a name and purpose of the visit.
If the visitor is unauthorized but does not pose a threat, remain professional and ask him or her to leave.
If the visitor is unauthorized and poses a threat, contact the HR department or call 9-1-1.
If the visitor appears to be experiencing homelessness or is seeking food, shelter or financial assistance, please refer him or her to a local shelter.
If you encounter a Tulsan who is experiencing homelessness, may have mental illness or substance abuse issue, or who is asking you for money in an aggressive manner, the answer is not always to call 9-1-1 or the police non-emergency number.
Community Service Council’s Housing & Homelessness Team is happy to attend meetings to present or to simply participate in discussion on the topic of homelessness and housing instability. If your organization would like to schedule a presentation, please click below.
We will customize a presentation to your needs that can include the following information:
● Best practices for interacting with homeless visitors in your area of business;
● Ways to help individuals experiencing homelessness, or at-risk for homelessness;
● Ways to help local nonprofits working to prevent and end homelessness in Tulsa;
● Updates on work accomplished by the local collaborative A Way Home for Tulsa;
● Education on Coordinated Entry (the process by which we help homeless individuals get into housing);
● Policies that can be implemented that support individuals experiencing, or at-risk of, homelessness.
Tulsa has made significant progress through A Way Home for Tulsa (AWH4T), a collaboration of 30 organizations coordinated by the Community Service Council working together to prevent and end homelessness.
While our progress is promising, we have an urgent need to address the crisis of unsheltered Tulsans, the capacity of our shelters to meet current needs, and to make sure there is enough safe and affordable housing. We must equally focus on preventing youth and families from becoming homeless and diverting Tulsans who do become homeless from entering our shelters or sleeping on the streets if they have other safe options available.
Through the generous support of the Anne and Henry Zarrow Foundation, we have contracted with San Francisco’s HomeBase to lead Tulsa through a strategic planning process to reduce and stabilize vulnerable populations from experiencing homelessness.