Information collected will be used in a long-term strategic plan
In order to better assess the circumstances and needs of people experiencing homelessness, several organizations will launch a short-term program this week to contact, educate and connect individuals to services. It has the potential to improve lives and provide higher stability, security and necessities for homeless individuals.
The 12-day program, entitled Operation Direct and Connect, will be in effect from Nov. 2 to Nov. 20 and will provide data for long-term strategic planning to prevent homelessness in Tulsa. City of Tulsa partners include the Tulsa Police Department (TPD), Tulsa Fire Department (TFD), Working in Neighborhoods and Municipal Courts; along with two service agencies Mental Health Association Oklahoma and Family & Children’s Services.
The City of Tulsa is partnering with two of the agencies that are already conducting regular outreach to people experiencing homelessness. The partnership between the TPD and social service is a best practice used nationwide that is shown to increase data about community needs, reduce arrests and modify systems to decrease homelessness.
“We have a lot of data but we also have a lot of theories and guesses. Since we are already interacting with people experiencing homelessness because of calls, we want to take it a step further. Our team will collect more information during this outreach to better understand the magnitude of the homelessness problem and the unique circumstances of each person,” said Tulsa Police Captain Shellie Seibert. “We want to use that information to create solutions to help reduce the number of people experiencing homelessness, and hopefully give us more solutions to prevent it. You can’t have solutions until you understand the problems.”
Seibert will lead a team of six TPD officers who will join with caseworkers from Mental Health Association Oklahoma and Family & Children’s Services to contact individuals living on Tulsa’s streets.
“The goal of this project is to determine the needs of the unsheltered/homeless population and connect them to the appropriate social service,” Seibert said. “By taking a contact and connect approach, we hope to reduce the number of neighborhood complaints related to people experiencing homelessness while improving the lives of all citizens.”
Seibert said TPD are often called out on incidents or checks regarding people experiencing homelessness near neighborhoods. Part of the goal of this outreach program is to also educate people experiencing homelessness on City ordinances they may be breaking that often result in police calls for service, she said.
Mayor G.T. Bynum said typically the types of calls received are about public health issues and/or low-level non-violent public nuisance crimes.
“We owe it to our community to understand these issues better so that we can address them, prevent them and sustain quality in neighborhoods while also creating an environment where all individuals are aware of their access to safety, shelter and other services,” Bynum said.
Municipal Courts also connects people experiencing homelessness to the Special Services Docket, which is a program that allows them to potentially clear warrants and fines.
Seibert said the information from this outreach effort will provide a critical needs assessment, capturing reasons for homelessness, and determining beneficial, effective tactics and partnerships.
“Tulsa officers already are called out on enforcement issues, taking time and money from handling more serious calls, so why not have them actively gathering information that can lead to better results in the future,” Seibert said.
“There are instances where neighborhood complaints regarding a person experiencing homelessness results in an arrest. When they leave jail they go back to where they were,” she said. “We want to do more to break that cycle.”