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Experts Call for Proactive Approach to Reduce Downtown Homelessness

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The Tulsa Chamber sponsored a forum Thursday focusing on downtown’s homeless population, and the experts said early intervention is key.

"We are reacting to the situation, which is compounded by homelessness, rather than recognizing that if we put our efforts into the front end of this, we can save so many lives, so many tragedies that are happening downtown and so many tragedies that are happening in our community," said Jan Figart with the Community Service Council.

Figart said says more affordable housing, a living wage, Medicaid expansion and mental health services in schools could all help reduce the rate of homelessness.

Three in five chronically homeless people have lifetime mental health problems. State Mental Health Commissioner Terri White said there needs to be more communication among healthcare providers because people don’t seek help for mental illness until something is very wrong.

"But they will see a primary care physician, they will see an OB-GYN once a year if they're a female, they will show up in the emergency room, and we can catch things so much earlier," White said.

White also says the criminal justice system needs to do a better job of diverting the mentally ill from jail and into treatment.