TULSA, Okla. — As Tulsa’s Housing Solutions announces a two percent increase in homelessness in Tulsa, Mayor G.T. Bynum wants to take a harder approach to address some of the city's homeless.
He is proposing an amended ordinance that would allow police officers to remove anyone blocking sidewalks and public right of way to help address campsites around the city.
Bynum presented the amended ordinance proposal to city councilors during an urban economic development committee meeting. He told them it's the right time for another approach since the city has invested a lot into helping the homeless find shelter.
“In the last 18 months, the City of Tulsa spent over $13 million on housing and homeless assistance for outreach, shelter support, and so many other things,” Bynum said.
For residents like Lynda Anderson who lives near 51st and Peoria, those efforts have not been enough.
“We need some help, the homeless people are gathering together, up in this strip mall that we have and they’re building homes out of cardboard and baskets they have stolen from the different stores,” Anderson said.
Bynum said four years ago Tulsa police asked him to consider amending the city ordinance that would allow them to remove the homeless from certain areas, but he delayed introducing it because he wanted to make sure the city was providing housing alternatives. Since then, the city has created Tulsa Housing Solutions, an Affordable Housing Trust Fund, and hired a housing policy director.
“We are doing more than we ever have as a city government to support homeless housing and outreach and that is why I feel much more comfortable now bringing this forward because folks do have alternatives and for people to get the help they need, they aren’t going to get it sleeping on a sidewalk, they are going to get it in a shelter, many of which we are funding now,” Bynum said.
Some councilors are already questioning the proposed changes.
“How do we get around the argument that has faced other municipalities when it comes to criminalizing homelessness?” District 7 City Councilor Lori Decter Wright said.
Decter Wright said she wants to make sure the city is not crossing the line and infringing on unsheltered citizens' rights while also addressing the rights of all Tulsans.
City Councilor Jeannie Cue said she has heard from constituents, including business owners who said they don't feel they have any rights. Something Lynda Anderson agrees with.
“People that don’t have a home and they scare me. You don’t know where they came from. So you don’t know, are they going to hurt you; are they not going to hurt you,” Anderson said.
Bynum said TPD and Tulsa Housing Solutions will address councilors next week to explain more about the proposed ordinance change.
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