In a city of nearly 400,000, the homeless population – including both short-term and the chronically homeless – ranges between 500-600 men, women and children, according to Greg Shinn, associate director and housing services director at the Mental Health Association.
Due to new local fire safety regulations, stating residential buildings must be sprinkled by 2010, the downtown YMCA plans to close 168 rooms that house about 140 homeless.
The new “Building Tulsa, Building Lives” initiative “is a proactive plan intended to avoid that exact thing,” Shinn said.
Building Tulsa, Building Lives, an initiative that spun from Mayor Kathy Taylor’s task force to end homelessness, proposes building a series of apartment buildings dispersed about town to house the homeless.
Steve Whitaker, executive director at John 3:16 Mission, has another plan.
By Whitaker’s count, Tulsa does have an increasing homeless problem. According to the mission’s 2005 annual report, the group sheltered 38.5 percent more homeless men and served 25 percent more meals in 2005 than in 2004.
“We’re at saturation,” he said.
Tulsa’s homeless problem could be exacerbated by downtown revitalization.
“What we know about cities that are like Tulsa where gentrification is the norm, when you revitalize and more businesses come in and people are prosperous, whether people like it or not, that draws more homeless people,” he said. “There is going to be a concentration of wealth back in this part of town in the next decade. People in need are drawn to that kind of environment.”
“There’s nobody more jazzed about the plans for developing the river and downtown revitalization. But, if you don’t have a John 3:16, all you’re going to have is more people living in more alleyways, more people urinating on buildings, more people digging in and sleeping in dumpsters.”
Whitaker’s plan is to increase the mission’s capacity to feed and shelter the homeless by building onto and renovating his current facilities. His prospective expansion project will add 24,000 new SF to the current facilities at John 3:16 Mission, which will be tied to existing facilities to render one service point for the homeless in Tulsa.
“If you were in my shoes, and you ever turned away one person into the night, it would rip your heart out,” he said. “We have to turn away 40 per night.”
The master plan calls for a three-story building on what is now the parking lot south of the strip mall adjacent to the site, which has been aquired by the mission. The new facilities will house a cafeteria and dormitories that will feed and shelter 300. The mission feeds 250 people per day in its current facilities and sleeps 110 men.
While the 55-year-old mission can’t house women in current facilities, Whitaker plans to create a wing in his new building that will house women.
“That’s our master plan. That doesn’t mean that the City is going to approve that, but we think they will. We don’t have any enemies at City Hall. We just have divergent ideas about what we’re going to do with the homeless and how we’re going to accomplish it.”
With current facilities, there is no controlled flow between services, and space is tight. Between old facilities and new, architect Kathleen Page of consynsus, 3006 S. Yorktown Ave., designed a smaller set of eleven dormitories that can house more people in less space.
Patience is a Virtue
Raising money for construction and renovations in the non-profit sector isn’t exactly the same process as the one used by corporate folks.
“When it comes to raising money for the non-profit sector, there’s not a budget item – John 3:16 raises money $1.92 at a time – unless there’s a windfall of some kind,” he said.
To renovate current facilities, the mission has saved and plans to spend $1 million. New construction will cost $7-8 million with contingencies, Whitaker said, citing rising construction and materials costs.
The capital campaign for the expansion at the mission has yet to begin.
“Until we get zoning issues taken care of, there’s no reason to go to local foundations and say, ‘We need you to be a major player in the program.’”
Approaching foundations or corporations for the money for capital improvements is the non-profit sector’s best bet in improving facilities.
“Coming up with cash for expansion is extremely difficult to do,” he said. “Our expertise is working with homeless people. The building is immensely expensive, and the City expects us to jump through the same hoops everybody else.”
“A large private entity could decide they want to build a new building. It’s a commercial venture, and most people see that as a good thing. For a not-for-profit like John 3:16 to expand and grow is by some people seen as a very negative thing.”
Whitaker’s plans to expand assume many things will happen for the mission. He is asking the city to, in time, allow the Mission use of the alleyway between the mission and the strip mall. The strip mall, now used for administrative offices, must also be rezoned.
“We want to feed people here. But to do that, because we’re going to be connected to a shelter, our attorney advises that we zone everything shelter. But, to expand shelter is very difficult in the environment we’re in.”
The permitting and building process “seems difficult” for Whitaker, though “we haven’t had anyone stand us down at this point.”
What’s Your Five-Year Plan?
The John 3:16 Mission isn’t the only charity working to make services more accessible in Tulsa. Catholic Charities, headquartered at 739 N. Denver Ave., now manages nine buildings through which volunteers serve the needy in Tulsa. Problem is, the mission of the organization suffers from a lack of space and the run-down state of its facilities.
“We don’t have one extra inch in any of our buildings right now. Not only do we not have space, but it doesn’t make economic sense to put money into the buildings anymore,” said Tim Sullivan, executive director.
About four years ago, the board at Catholic Charities decided that if the organization had a future, it was time to move some dirt.
Catholic Charities will consolidate the services rendered in the current buildings, most of which won’t be saved from demolition, into one location on 10 acres at the southwest corner of North Harvard and East Apache.
The project is still in the architectural planning stages, but Sullivan hopes to break ground on the center later this year. TAP Architects is designing the project. A general contractor has not been selected. Sullivan plans to begin moving Catholic Charities into its new home by late 2008.
In the Same Boat
The new facilities will total 80,000 SF, up from 30,000 SF at current facilities. The project is expected to cost $16 million, but the capital campaign has yielded over $18.5 million.
Sullivan would empathize with Whitaker that in the non-profit world, finding money for capital improvements requires some creativity.
“You’re relying entirely on donations. We don’t have any money set aside for a capital project like this,” Sullivan said.
Non-profits have their ways of coming into windfalls of cash for capital improvements, however.
“One of the most effective things we did was take people on tours of our facilities. That helped them better understand what we do and the condition of our buildings. That really helped motivate people to support the project,” he said.
Catholic Charities raised $11 million in an advanced campaign during which the organization approached large foundations and wealthy individuals. That $11 million represents approximately 100 donors.
“The thing that’s really great for us is that it’s from a cross-section of the community,” he said of the funds. “It’s not just Catholics, but also Jewish and Protestant foundations, organizations and individuals.”
Top donors include the Mabee Foundation, the Henry and Ann Zarrow Foundation and the William K. Warren Foundation.
The official capital campaign for the project started over one year ago. The final piece of the campaign was to go to the Catholic parishes with a goal of $5 million. The parishes raised over $7 million.
Building an Icon
Though the new facilities will cost more to maintain, “we’ll have more room, so it’ll be so much more convenient for our clients. Not only will we have more space, but the space will be designed to serve our clients. Most of the buildings we have now – most of them are residences or churches,” Sullivan said. “They weren’t designed to provide social services to the public.”
Current Catholic Charities facilities don’t host any classrooms or meeting spaces. The new campus will.
“We have one conference room for the entire organization right now,” he said. “In the new facility, there’s a conference center that can have up to six meeting and classrooms.”
The look of the new facilities are what Sullivan would call prairie mission style.
“In other words, we don’t want it to look institutional. We want it to look more like a village – warm and inviting – but we also want it to reflect our Oklahoma heritage.”
The materials for the building, including clay tiles, native stone, brick and the heavy use of wood, boast the prairie theme.
“I think it’ll be something that, architecturally, will be a landmark for the entire state,” he said. “That this is the centennial of our statehood is something we’re conscious of, too.”
Now, the board and management are meeting with architects to make sure all construction details are well conceived and that all involved have a good grasp of the cost of the new facilities.
“We don’t want any surprises. We have to build in a contingency to protect against that.” ?