VA staff from the Eastern Oklahoma VA Health Care System joined 19 local agencies on Jan. 23 to conduct an annual point in time survey of Tulsa’s homeless population.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) mandates the annual survey, which ultimately impacts the amount of federal funding Tulsa will receive to help combat homelessness.
While local homeless shelters counted people at their locations, eight outreach teams, consisting of three to four people each, hit the streets to count the homeless throughout the city and pass out comfort kits that included sleeping bags, socks and food.
“These outreach teams are active throughout the year, not just this one night,” said Melanie Goldman, homeless program manager for the Eastern Oklahoma VA Health Care System. “They have a good idea where folks are camping out.”
Goldman said they divided Tulsa into four geographic locations. Two teams visited each location in areas such as levies, bridges, gas stations and large wooded areas.
“For example, our south team goes into some large wooded areas where we have received reports of people camping,” said Goldman. “Most of those areas we have already established relationships with the people who are staying there. There are also several gas stations that we know people hang out at, so we go to those locations, too, and try to capture as many people as possible.”
The survey is voluntary and does not collect personally identifiable information such as names. Outreach teams ask the individual’s gender, age, Veteran status, living conditions, if they’re elderly or disabled, or whether they have children.
HUD will publish a nationwide homeless report in August.
Since 2008, the total number of homeless in Tulsa has increased from 842 in 2008 to 1,188 in 2019, while the number of homeless Veterans has declined from 145 in 2008 to 95 in 2019. Goldman contributes the decline in homeless Veterans to increased funding from the VA and HUD.
For example, VA had 35 HUD-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (VASH) vouchers in 2008 to provide housing for homeless Veterans in Tulsa. In contrast, VA has 373 vouchers this year and currently provides housing assistance for 330 Veterans.
“I contribute the decrease in homelessness to the resources that the VA has invested,” said Goldman. “The VA has actually done what they said they were going to do and put resources into ending Veteran homelessness. I truly believe we’re closer than we’ve ever been.”
Story and photos by Nate Schaeffer, Public Affairs Specialist at the Eastern Oklahoma VA Health Care System.