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Salvation Army Wants Help Bringing More Emergency Shelters to Tulsa

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Salvation Army
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Tulsa has done well addressing chronic homelessness, but more emergency shelters are needed.

Tulsa Salvation Army Capt. Ken Chapman took a short break Friday from his three-day, 66 mile walk to raise awareness of homelessness to talk about the dire need for emergency shelters.

The Salvation Army Center of Hope is hosting 250 people or more each night when its capacity is 155, and its one-night high was 374. Chapman said the Salvation Army may have contributed to the problem by not turning people away.

"My heart is to help people in their basic human need, but my head says I can't continue to do it with the resources we have, the facilities we have and the staff we have," Chapman said. "So, we are going to have to let our heads begin to overrule our hearts in some ways, and, for me, I gotta tell you, that's a tough thing."

Other nonprofits’ leaders say they’re facing similar demands on their shelters. Chapman said he will host quarterly summits next year to come up with solutions to the shelter shortage.

"We will, at some point, reach a saturation point where we say, 'We cannot do any more than we're doing now,'" Chapman said.

Nonprofit leaders said there’s no single cause for the growth in Tulsa’s homeless population, citing a lack of affordable housing, families living paycheck to paycheck, substance abuse and domestic violence all as contributors.

One big obstacle to building more shelters could be city permitting and zoning requirements. Rev. Steve Whitaker, the head of John 3:16 Mission, said some in the nonprofit community have come away from the strenuous and expensive process of meeting all those requirements with a feeling of persecution.

"It should be done correctly, yes. Buildings should be safe, yes. But to make it painful and difficult seems to be onerous, unnecessarily," Whitaker said.

Whitaker said a “not in my backyard” attitude toward shelters is also a problem, noting John 3:16 was sued eight times over a chapel and kitchen.