TULSA, Okla. — More than one thousand people are currently living on the streets in Tulsa.
Their safety and health is a big concern during the pandemic. Shelters and programs opened to help them.
One of those people is Tony Jeffreys, who was homeless for three years.
“You don’t know if it’s going to rain," Jeffreys said. "You don’t know if it’s going to snow. You don’t know where you’re going to eat. What you’re going to eat.”
This time last year, Jeffreys wouldn’t believe where he’d be living today. After being homeless for three years, he’s been staying at a hotel through the City Lights Foundation in Tulsa since December.
“It took about a month before I could sleep in the bed because I was so used to sleeping on the ground," Jeffreys said. "You just can’t explain hot and cold running water in the sink again. And a shower. You can shower every day.”
Jeffreys first stayed at the overflow shelter at the old Juvenile Justice Center, which was converted last year to help reduce capacity at other shelters during COVID.
During that time, the City Lights Foundation took over a hotel where those who tested positive can quarantine. It’s also a place for the high-risk homeless to stay, like Jeffreys.
Along with those two programs is the hotel to the housing program, which started in February. It came about as groups like Housing Solutions Tulsa worked to get the homeless safe and off the streets before the winter storm.
“It also presented an opportunity for folks who may have been out on the street for 5, 10, 15 years to finally get access to housing," said Becky Gligo, executive director of Housing Solutions Tulsa.
Gligo said they've been able to find permanent housing for more than 1,000 people since COVID began.
However, two of those programs are coming to an end. The shelter at the old Juvenile Justice Center closed Monday. Gligo said its COVID relief funding was coming to an end.
The hotel to housing program is ending later this summer, the funding for that also running out.
Gligo said both programs were short-term solutions. And even though they're going away, they plan to keep working.
“The need is still there," Gligo said. "We have a sense of urgency to get folks housed and connected to services and housing plans. It’s not our intention to put anybody back on the street.”
The City Lights hotel will stay open at least through August, but there are plans to make it permanent so they can help more people like Jeffreys, who is moving into his own apartment next week.
“They’re really good people," Jeffreys said. "They’re angels. They have helped me more than any services out there. They are absolutely angels.”
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