A day in the life of the Day Center
Every day hundreds of Tulsans visit the Tulsa Day Center for the Homeless to fill basic needs. Many are also working with case managers to create a plan for the future.
Adairia Watts reads a newspaper at the Tulsa Day Center for the Homeless.
Angel Hughes estimates that she knows about 85 percent of the more than 400 faces who walk past her each day at the Tulsa Day Center for the Homeless.
Hughes, the front desk and day manager of the Day Center, is the first person those seeking shelter see when they arrive each morning.
As clients begin filing in at 8 a.m., they present their tuberculosis card to Hughes and a volunteer. The card, which proves that they do not have the infectious disease, is one of the few items needed to receive services, and one of the first items people new to the shelter seek out.
After showing their TB cards, clients present their belongings to an officer for inspection. Some carry their possessions — clothes, shoes, toiletries, books — in rolling suitcases and purses; others simply use trash bags to carry everything they own.
Once inside, the hundreds of people who have come off the street can begin the activities that many of us take for granted, such as using a clean bathroom, taking a shower, checking e-mail, washing clothes, making phone calls and receiving mail, as many clients use the Day Center as their address.
The Day Center also provides cereal in the morning to those who have spent the night, and snacks are available throughout the day. Many clients visit The Salvation Army Center of Hope for lunch, and each evening a church group provides a meal at the Day Center.
Additionally, about one-fourth of clients at the shelter during the day meet with a case manager to develop and work on a plan for the future.
“We set goals with people to secure housing, to secure employment, to get job training if they need it,” says Sandra Lewis, the Day Center’s executive director.
To help facilitate reaching those goals, the Day Center hosts Community Voice Mail (CVM), a free voice mail service for homeless and low-income people.
Without a permanent home, people at the Day Center do not have access to a regular landline phone, says Lori Morton, program manager for Tulsa Community Voice Mail. Although some Day Center clients use pay-by-the-minute cell phones, minutes often run out by the end of the month, compromising that person’s ability to remain connected. CVM, however, is more reliable and consistent, conserving minutes for clients by helping them determine whom to call back.
CVM messages can be checked using any phone, including landlines, pay phones, lobby phones, Day Center phones or cell phones. Clients call the CVM number, enter a personalized PIN and access their messages. Messages can be repeated, saved or erased.
Eligible participants sign up for CVM at any of the 46 participating agencies, including the Day Center, Goodwill Industries of Tulsa and Workforce Oklahoma, to obtain a free local number, where they can customize a greeting. The service, which came to Tulsa in February 2008, has been instrumental in helping 344 people find housing, 285 find employment and 199 find health care, Morton says.
There’s no limit to the length of time clients can use the number — as long as they check it, they can keep it, Morton says. But when the client has reached his or her goal, the voice mailbox can be reset and the number recycled for a new client.
In addition to acting as voice mail, CVM is also a way to inform large groups of people about health alerts or other worthwhile information they may not otherwise receive, such as a tornado alert or an upcoming ice storm.
Also, every Monday, a list of available jobs is delivered via broadcast messaging. The list includes information about the job locations and transit suggestions. Broadcast messages are sent like any other voice mail and include a tag or subject line so the client can determine whether the information is relevant to him or her.
“Not everybody is attached to the radio and TV and know we’re in a flash flood warning, for example,” Morton says, noting that using the phone helps inform people who may be illiterate.
Currently, 1,300 people use CVM, many of whom were connected with the service as part of their work with their case manager.
Kristina Giustozzi, a case manager at the Day Center, has about 40 to 50 clients she connects with resources around Tulsa. She also connects countless others with services and resources, although she only meets with them occasionally.
For example, she says, if someone is looking for food stamps, she will link that person with the Oklahoma Department of Human Services and advocate on behalf of the client that he or she is homeless and needs the aid.
As 4 p.m. comes around, the majority of those at the Day Center leave, spending the night at another local shelter. But the Day Center does not close. Not completely. Every night, 125 people stay at the Day Center — women, men over the age of 55, and those with a mental illness — watched over by a staff member and security guard.
For these clients, a safe place to sleep has been assured. Tomorrow, they will continue working to ensure they have a safe place to sleep every night.