BY Camille Jones
There are over six thousand homeless people in the Tulsa area alone, and a lot of times, they go entirely unnoticed. And if we don’t understand the problem, how can we help? I sat down with Noe Rodriguez at the Denver House downtown to talk about homelessness, so we can all understand it a little better.
Q: What do you do?
A: My title is homeless outreach and rapid response coordinator with the mental health association. It’s kind of a two part job; one is to do street outreach, connecting those that are homeless to services, and working with those that are chronically homeless to engage with them in hopes that they will want to connect to services, or to housing. The rapid response is, we work with TPD, with Tulsa Transit, with security. When they get calls of someone maybe not having a mental health crisis but just experiencing homelessness, instead of asking them to move along or giving them a citation we’ll go out engage with them, connect them with services, or get them where they need to be.
Q: According to the Community Services Council, the amount of homeless individuals in Tulsa has increased 7% in the past decade. What are some general factors that could contribute to the homeless population in a city going up?
A: It could be because we have the highest incarceration rate, it could be a lack of affordable housing, lack of employment, lack of treatment options for people that are substance users… There’s a whole gamut of things it could be. Homelessness is complex, but in part it’s not too complex because the solution to homelessness is housing. But, there’s also the need for a variety of services to help support people and get them into housing.
Q: How does homelessness affect a person’s mental health?
A: When I think of somebody who is homeless, a lot of times it’s the disconnection of relationships. If you were struggling emotionally or financially, you’d have resources, friends or family that’d provide you support and care. And the individuals that are experiencing homelessness don’t have that support or that system to rely on, or someone to call when they’re in nee. So many of them tend to go into survival mode. They tend to stop the housing search, or the services search, and try to make do with what they have.
Q: Another CSC survey in 2017 said that 1,016 unaccompanied minors were homeless at some point that year. How do minors become homeless, and where do they go?
A: Youth Services of Tulsa does a great job with working with minors and those ages eighteen to twenty four. Many of those minors who are experiencing homelessness are doubled up, or couch surfing with their families, or they’re at the shelters, so it’s very rare that I come across a family that remains unsheltered. But if I do, I’m mainly trying to connect them to services, especially if they’re a minor. I’d definitely call Youth Services.
Q: Are Tulsa shetlers enough? Especially in the winter, when there is an influx of people needing shelter, do we have enough shelters and enough space within those shelters?
A: From my understanding, the shelters are running at a 96% capacity or even more during inclimate weather. So the goal is, with outreach, to help those individuals who are not going to those shelters and accessing those shelters. Then outreach needs to provide those services.
Q: Why do some homeless individuals choose not to go to shelters?
A: Well again it’s a variety of reasons. Maybe they don’t like crowds. Maybe they’ve been suspended from shelters before. Maybe they don’t like the rules of the shelter, like maybe they want to smoke and can’t smoke. Whatever the reasons may be, our hope for coordinated outreach is that even if you’re not in a shelter, that doesn’t mean we cant bring services to you and help you where you’re at.
Q: Over three thousand union and tulsa students in 2016 experienced homelessness at some point in time that year, either with family or alone. So, what can schools do to provide services for students?
A: On the front end they could educate, so it’s not a stigma. So students aren’t afraid to share what’s going on. So there’s some support for them and their families. So they know about 211. The schools can join the Community Service Council and their efforts to address homelessness amongst students in schools, being a part of our continuum of care. It’s so hard, because individuals feel ashamed or don’t want people to know, so it’s important to educate that it’s a safe place. Here’s who you go to, and they’ll help you.
For more information about what’s going on, what you need to know, and how to help, visit https://csctulsa.org/.