Tulsa, OK

Tulsa Uses Drone to Locate Homeless Encampments During Arctic Blast

Debbie Walker


Photo by Matthew McBrayer on Unsplash

The current temperature in Tulsa, Oklahoma is -1 degrees Fahrenheit with a wind chill factor of -20. In a frigid cold like that, a person's skin will freeze in 15 minutes or less according to my local fox23 news station. Frostbite is dangerous and can cause permanent damage. The homeless living outside are especially at risk.

Those are the conditions that all of Tulsa is experiencing including the homeless population. Homeless encampments have sprung up in pockets under bridges and wooded areas throughout Tulsa. I have seen first-hand sleeping bags and grocery carts full of belongings in a group of trees behind the Quik Trip in my neighborhood. I wondered how these people would survive the cold?

City leaders, in an effort to locate a homeless camp, used a drone to find, inform, and evacuate those living in the area to a warming center.

One of the factors involved in the increase of homelessness during the pandemic is job loss according to a Newson6 article recently.

But how many homeless do we have? The Point in Time Survey conducted by the Tulsa City-County Continuum of Care found 639 people living as homeless on January 26, 2021. This survey happens once a year all over the country on the homeless population in any given city.

An army of volunteers walked the streets of Tulsa to find and count the homeless. Over 20 agencies participated including Family & Children's, the Salvation Army, John 3:16 Mission, and the Veteran Administration among others.

Impact of Non-Profits

There are two agencies I am familiar with that have a significant impact on the homeless in Tulsa--Salvation Army and John 3:16 Mission.

  • I worked for the Salvation Army several decades ago as a case manager for women and children. During inclement weather, we opened up the shelter to anyone who needed a warm place to sleep and eat. Mats were laid out on the floor side-by-side if need be. They are still open today. See below for details.
  • I interviewed President and Senior Pastor Steve Whitaker over the phone and he informed me that the men's shelter is open 24 hrs. They also have a warming center at the shelter that sits 130 people that is open during the day for families in need.

With the state under a freeze-emergency, and in lieu of the fact a homeless man froze to death last week, several agencies are opening their doors to accommodate the homeless. Following are the ones I found in the area:

  • John 3:16 Mission at 506 N. Cheyenne Open 24 hours.
  • The Salvation Army Center of Hope at 102 N. Denver Ave Open 24 hours check-in by 5:30 pm.
  • The Day Center 415 W Archer St Open 24 hours, sitting and sleeping area available.
  • City of Tulsa Overflow Shelter 500 W Archer St
  • City of Broken Arrow Public Safety complex at 1101 N. 6th Street is open Sunday through at least 1 a.m. and will open Monday at 8 for stranded motorists. Central Park Community Center at 1500 S. Main Street will open during normal hours and the Broken Arrow Police department has several overnight shelters at churches on standby.
  • The Sapulpa Elks Lodge will be open through next Thursday, Feb. 25, and has food, snacks, and sleeping bags available.

Pastor Whitaker also stated that the Winter Emergency Team comprising all the shelter directors in Tulsa met to forego COVID-19 restrictions in order to save lives during the current arctic blast.

We are a city of hope that demonstrates care for the vulnerable and indigent. Thank you, Tulsa, for all you do! Also, if you are in need, please call 211 for referrals.

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