By Sandra Lewis

Executive Director

Tulsa Day Center for the Homeless

For more than 20 years, I have been a part of something very important here at the Day Center: serving our friends and neighbors experiencing homelessness. For the past 15 months our organization has also supported an initiative to end chronic and veteran homelessness in our community. You read that right, Zero: 2016 Tulsa is an initiative to end chronic and veteran homelessness as a first step toward all homelessness being rare, brief and non-recurring.

Many people have asked me what the shelter will do if every Tulsan who is chronically homeless finds a home by the end of this year. Will the Day Center still be needed?

The answer is yes.

The shelter has provided a healthy environment for those who are homeless for more than three decades. We have a diverse group of clients. Some have been with us for years, but most of our clients are only with us for a short period of time.

Those who live at a shelter or without shelter for more than a year are described as chronically homeless, and generally they have a serious condition that inhibits them from living an independent life in an independent home. These are the most vulnerable of our homeless neighbors.

Most of our Day Center clients, however, are only with us for a short period of time. These Tulsans find themselves without a home because of a job loss, layoffs, a short-term personal or health issue, financial mismanagement, or another life-change. These clients are situationally homeless, which means they come to our shelter for temporary services while they get back on their feet and can live independently again.

We provide services that speed up the transition period to help families and individuals get back into a personal home. We provide services that make homelessness brief.

There are 23 agencies working toward making homelessness rare, brief and non-recurring. We are collaborating more efficiently and effectively than ever. We all have our area of expertise – some agencies focus on prevention (rare) and others on housing (non-recurring). Our focus is on services that make homelessness brief.

Our goal is that no Tulsan is living without a home for more than 30 days and that “chronic” or long-term homelessness ends. We’re helping to end long-term homelessness by leading the “Fresh Start” group. This group is a collaborative among agencies that provides case evaluations and knocks down the barriers people encounter when they are chronically homeless.

Rare, brief and non-recurring. That’s the ultimate goal. When the majority of Americans are only one paycheck away from homelessness, it’s easy to understand how easily thousands of Tulsans find themselves temporarily homeless.

We are here to support those with long-term barriers-to-housing. Working alongside the 23 Zero: 2016 Tulsa agencies we have found homes for more than 80 Tulsans who had been living on the street for more than a year.

So what will I do when Tulsa succeeds at finding homes for all currently chronically homeless Tulsans?

I will celebrate.

And then get right back to work.

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