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City Launches Path to Home Initiative; Goals, Action Steps Unveiled to Help Address Homelessness, Housing, Mental Health in Tulsa

4/9/2024

Today, officials from the Mayor/Council Housing, Homelessness, and Mental Health (3H) Task Force announced the launch of the Path to Home Initiative, a central source for all programming as it relates to homelessness, housing, and mental health within the City of Tulsa.

The Task Force has also released its formal recommendations with four goals and 33 action steps to advance solutions around homelessness in Tulsa.

To learn more about the Path to Home initiative and to see the recommendations, visit: www.cityoftulsa.org/pathtohome.

"Homelessness is an issue every major city is facing, and the City of Tulsa, along with our service providers, are doing a large amount of work in this space," Mayor G.T. Bynum said. "As part of the Path to Home initiative, we want Tulsans to have first-hand knowledge of the solutions in place to help those suffering from chronic homelessness, highlight the policies in place to increase our housing stock and bring attention to the programs available for those suffering a mental health crisis. As a city, we want Tulsans to know there is a community approach in place and work is being done every day to help our neighbors in need." 

The City's role surrounding homelessness, housing, and mental health has evolved over the years due to community needs. With the City collaborating with partners more than ever to address pressing issues within the community, the City's Path to Home initiative gives residents a comprehensive overview of all the programming and policy work at the local government level to further help individuals experiencing homelessness and support the tireless work of service providers. Effectively, the three-part initiative highlights the work already being done, the work that is in the planning and development phases, and the reporting resources for Tulsans and ways to help those in need.

Path to Home by the numbers:

"I want to thank our departments and Task Force for their diligent work. We received incredible feedback from organizations that helped guide the strategies we will be implementing as a community," Tulsa Council Chair and 3H Task Force member Jeannie Cue said. "Some organizations identified the need for more programs, while others identified the addition of resources to increase the footprint of existing programming. This work has truly been a community effort - we didn't come up with the solutions by ourselves and we can't implement this alone either."

In 2023, the 3H Task Force was created to help form a set of recommendations the City can use to maximize its efficiency and effectiveness in contributing to broader community solutions already in place within the organization and by service providers, local organizations, and the nonprofit community. For the past year, the Task force has laid the groundwork to compose a set of recommendations based on stakeholder engagement and research of existing processing and programming within the City of Tulsa and community.  Last year, nine program and policy recommendations were introduced by the task force and are near completion.

Moving forward, the 3H Task Force will work with departments and service providers to begin the formal implementation phase of its recommendations, monitor action step progress and effectiveness, and recommended a resolution to the full City Council for use of Improve Our Tulsa funds.

Path to Home

(3H) Task Force Recommendations

*Denotes one of the nine initial 2023 Recommendations

Goal 1:  Housing Production & Preservation

  1. Tulsa Housing Strategy: Begin implementation of priority actions assigned to the City to lead and continue collaboration with partners and stakeholders on actions assigned to the City as a funder, participant and/or advisor.
  2. Development Review and Approval Process: Proactively communicate with the development community about improvements and timelines to make the process more transparent and show that improvements are being made. Inform applicants about best practices to avoid delays, including common issues that arise with specific development types and how they can be successfully resolved.
  3. Housing Feasibility Zoning Amendments: Amendments were initiated for the Tulsa Planning Office to draft in March 2023. The goal is to proactively amend City zoning regulations to respond to shifts in the housing market and work towards meeting the citywide demand of nearly 13,000 units. Key concepts include converting commercial buildings into housing, allowing more housing types in office and commercial districts and addressing barriers to encourage accessory dwelling units and manufactured housing.
  4. Housing Suitability Map: Create and regularly update an interactive map that identifies housing-ready sites that have good development potential related to infrastructure, zoning, floodplain, surrounding land uses, and other key elements.
  5. Preapproved Plan Program: Publish permit-ready housing construction plans that have been reviewed for conformance with building codes and promote residential design that fits neighborhood context. This simple, inexpensive-to-implement option reduces the permit process time for selected housing types and can contribute to more affordable housing.
  6. Housing Project Coordinators: Bring on City staff to serve(s) as a liaison for affordable housing projects and assist developers for the duration of City processes including public incentives, zoning, and permitting.
  7. Neighborhood Infill Overlay: Expand the Neighborhood Infill Overlay to allow a variety of different residential housing types in a manner that is compatible with the size and residential character of existing neighborhoods. A Zoning Overlay would amend underlying regulations that make it difficult to build housing commonly referred to as “Missing Middle” - duplexes, townhomes, multi-unit houses, quadplexes, and small apartment buildings.
  8. Housing Redevelopment Lien Relief: Create a well-defined policy to evaluate the potential release of code enforcement liens upon meeting conditions of a defined redevelopment plan, ensuring long-term affordability, and addressing properties that were previously on the City's nuisance and/or demolition lists.
  9. Save Our Homes Program: Support and evaluate success of recent partnerships with Tulsa Economic Development Corporation (TEDC) and the Financial Empowerment Center (FEC) to aid low-income households who are in danger of losing their homes. Services include title clearing, payment of delinquent property taxes, and financial counseling.
  10. Vacant Home Redevelopment Program: Foster a partnership with Tulsa Economic Development Corporation (TEDC) to offer a loan fund that provides forgivable loans to small redevelopers who purchase and enhance existing properties that will be available to residents who possess housing vouchers. Such properties may be abandoned, lien-levied, or in need of repairs.
  11. Vacant Lot Acquisition Program: Implement a pilot program with PartnerTulsa to identify and acquire vacant lots prime for housing development where new construction is economically viable. The program will initially focus on smaller infill lots with the goal of addressing properties that are identified on the City's nuisance and/or demolition lists.
  12. Homeowner Emergency Repair Program: Increase commitment by 20% from previous year to address backlog of emergency repair applications. The program will provide grant funding for qualified applicants to repair home conditions that threaten the health and/or safety of the occupants.

Goal 2: Outreach & Early Intervention

  1. * Low Barrier Shelter: Open a Low Barrier Shelter in partnership with City Lights Foundation of Oklahoma to temporarily house 50-75 households at a time. The program is referral-based for unsheltered individuals who are unable to access other available services, specifically due to their mental or physical health limitations and other barriers.
  2. * Priority Housing Placement Program: Implement a partnership with the Tulsa Housing Authority to set aside 50 housing vouchers for chronically homeless individuals. The program will include two full-time staff positions, a reduction in the criminal history “look back” period from 5 to 2 years, and the removal of 34 out of 47 criminal screening categories.
  3. Encampment Decommissioning: Develop a policy to strategically identify and close encampments through coordinated outreach to connect people with services and housing. Occupants would be given assistance to find housing over a period of time before encampment clean up occurred. Site selection, decommissioning processes, and housing opportunities are coordinated among stakeholders prior to clean up.
  4. Homeless Program Lead: Fund and hire a position to serve as the City’s point of contact and liaison for homelessness services including service provider contractor coordination and efforts requiring collaboration with community partners.
  5. TFD Alternative Response Team: Institutionalize the pilot co-responder program to assist with the growing number of mental health calls, staffed with an experienced paramedic and licensed mental health clinician.
  6. Crisis System Coordination: Convene and provide staff to support a multi-sector governing body to oversee the evaluation of the crisis response system to deploy resources and services more effectively in responding to individuals in mental health crisis who may also be experiencing homelessness.
  7. Enhanced Street Outreach Program: Grow an enhanced Street Outreach Program that provides resources and direct services to people experiencing unsheltered homelessness across the city of Tulsa's geographic area using a collaborative approach by Housing Solutions and Mental Health Association’s outreach programs.
  8. * Emergency Temporary Housing: Create an interconnected system to effectively treat and house the unsheltered population, while reducing the impact on community resources. This program will include new staff to perform outreach, provide case management, and temporarily house participants in hotel/motel rooms with food and transportation services.
  9. *Tulsa Day Center Animal Kennels: Reduce barriers to emergency shelter by funding a facility buildout at the Tulsa Day Center for animals to include kennels, a wash station, and other accommodations.

Goal 3: Leverage & Align Funding

  1. Improve Our Tulsa: Adopt a resolution to implement a project plan with recommendations from the City of Tulsa’s Housing, Homelessness, & Mental Health Task Force on funding priorities for housing initiatives.
  2. Align HUD Consolidated Plan: Establish priority needs and goals for effectively spending federal grant funds in the upcoming 2025-2029 Consolidated Plan. This includes community development, housing, and homeless services funding received via Community Development Block Grant (CDBG), Home Investment Partnerships Program (HOME), Housing Opportunities for Persons With AIDS (HOPWA) and Emergency Solutions Grants (ESG) programs.
  3. Leverage Medicaid Funding: Investigate and engage other levels of government to expand the opportunity to utilize Medicaid to provide services. Medicaid funding could potentially be utilized by current City partners and under the CCBHC model.
  4. Capture Grant Opportunities: Support community coordination to ensure an entity is applying for all available grants and potentially create a set-aside of local match funds for competitive grants.

Goal 4: Community Standards & Resources

  1. Public Outreach and Education: Create a public resource page for businesses and citizens that contains a list of existing City programs, frequently asked questions, and contact information that help mitigate the symptoms of homelessness (Path to Home Initiative).
  2. Clean-up Crew Expansion: Temporarily add two additional crews to an existing contract with the Center for Employment Opportunities (CEO) to clean up public rights-of-way where litter has been left.
  3. Waste Disposal Assistance Program: Research a program to subsidize disposal fees related to property owner clean-up efforts and other larger public/private coordinated events. This program would help individual and community efforts to address trash and discarded items related to homelessness.
  4. * Trespassing on Private Property: Continue to enforce the updated trespassing ordinance that makes it easier for individuals detained for trespassing to be considered for a diversion or specialty court program, while at the same time strengthening the City's enforcement capabilities as work continues to combat chronic offenders. The new ordinance does not change what is defined as trespassing. The maximum penalty for a first offense remains the same, up to a $200 fine plus the court costs. The ordinance adds a second offense with a maximum penalty of up to a $500 fine plus costs and/or up to 10 days in jail. A Municipal Judge must inquire as to whether the individual would like to be considered for diversion or specialty court program prior to accepting a plea.
  5. * Public Right-of-Way Obstruction: Create an ordinance clarifying that it is illegal to obstruct rights-of-way with objects or persons. The measure will apply to all streets, alleys, crosswalks, sidewalks, driveways or trails, and exceptions will be provided for extenuating circumstances.
  6. * Private Right-of-Way Enforcement: Expand partnership with railroads, the Oklahoma Department
    of Transportation (ODOT), and the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority (OTA) to enforce trespassing laws related to camping, sleeping, and littering/dumping on private rights-of-way.
  7. * Mayoral Directive on Enforcement: Continue to enforce Mayor Bynum’s directive to Tulsa Police
    to enforce all laws equally regardless of perceived housing status.
  8. * Open Containers in City Parks: Continue to enforce new rules approved by the Tulsa Parks and Recreation Board that allow the Parks Director to regulate open containers and/or consumption of alcohol in individual parks. The new rules will initially focus on addressing public safety concerns in Downtown parks to prohibit alcoholic beverages except at permitted events. New signs were installed in December 2023 at Chapman Green.

To learn more about the City's Path to Home Initiative and how residents can get engaged with this work, visit: www.cityoftulsa.org/pathtohome