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The complicated road to homelessness

As the glamour and glory of another Oklahoma sunset fades into the horizon, the bristling cold of the night creeps ever nearer. The setting of the sun bears no warmth, only signaling the chill of the oncoming darkness.

Imagine having no place to call “home,” no bed to sleep in and no escape from the cold. Every night in America, hundreds of thousands of people face this reality.

They are the “disdained,” the “dirty,” the “lazy,” and the forgotten—they are the homeless.

In the U.S. alone, around 553,000 people had no home to return to for at least one night in 2018, according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness,

In Tulsa, 1,188 people were counted homeless on a single night in January 2019, according to a report by the Community Service Council. The CSC’s study found homelessness has increased almost 10% over the past year in Tulsa. 

Part of the issue is Tulsa’s record high eviction rates. Tulsa employs the tenth highest eviction rate of all cities in the United States, according to Executive Director of Restore Hope Ministries, Jeff Jaynes.

“For the people who come through here, [the issue] would be their felony background. Most of the apartments won’t take a person with a felony background,” explained Tyrone Street, a job developer at the Center for Employment Opportunities in Tulsa. “There are organizations that will help you pay for an apartment, but you have to get approved to get the apartment, and that’s where our people fall short.”

Another factor is mental health. 

Forty-five percent of those homeless in Tulsa reported having a mental illness, according to the Community Service Council findings in January 2019. 

“Data shows the number of people with mental health issues and who are experiencing homelessness has remained steady. Between 40 and 60% of all the homeless population had untreated serious mental illness as a major contributing factor to their homelessness.” said Mike Brose, the executive director of the Mental Health Association of Oklahoma.

Some people in the community are chronically homeless, and that isn’t necessarily their fault. 

Those with disabilities including substance abuse disorders, post-traumatic stress disorders and “serious mental illness” are considered chronically homeless, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. People who have been homeless “continuously for at least one year or on at least four occasions in the last three years” are also considered chronically homeless. 

“It’s not because they can’t get out of it. Some people mentally don’t want to have the responsibility of having your own place and taking care of all that,” said Street. “It’s kind of scary if they’ve never done it before and so they’re fearful.”

Tulsa is home to many nonprofits and organizations working to provide for this often neglected group of the city’s community. 

The Salvation Army, Tulsa Day Center, John 3:16 Mission and other groups provide interim and temporary shelter, housing, food and additional needed services for the homeless of Tulsa. Through their efforts, these organizations are working to reduce the number of people in Tulsa lacking shelter and a place to call “home.”

ORU Missions partners with John 3:16 Mission as part of their weekly student outreaches, meeting on Thursdays to assist with children’s ministry through an after-school program with tutoring and a Bible study. 

But as the sun sets yet again, many will face the fast-approaching cold of night in the city of Tulsa still searching for a place to call “home.”

Illustration by Alejandro Contreras