Homeward bound

John 3:16 Mission and the Tulsa Day Center for the Homeless develop programs offering a new approach to serving chronically homeless individuals.



A rendering of John 3:16 Mission's planned renovation of its downtown facility.

In addition to the A Way Home for Tulsa initiative, two local homeless services organizations are devising other unique ways to reach a population in need.

The Tulsa Day Center for the Homeless and John 3:16 Mission are developing innovative approaches that allow chronically homeless individuals to leave downtown and benefit from transitional housing in a different, more tranquil setting.

Steve Whitaker, executive director of John 3:16 Mission, says the organization is aspiring to build a new facility called Hope Ranch. Located in a rural area of Tulsa County, Hope Ranch would provide an opportunity for homeless individuals to pursue a more normal way of life, Whitaker says.

“They may never normalize, but at least they’ll have a shot at it,” he says.

John 3:16, Tulsa’s only gospel rescue mission, aims to meet the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of the city’s hungry, homeless and at-risk populations. The mission provides food, shelter, clothing and restorative programs to those in need of services, according to its website.

Ultimately, Whitaker says Hope Ranch would allow John 3:16 to move its restorative programs out of downtown and increase the number of men and women served from 40 to 100. While he says the restorative programs already have a solid foundation, Hope Ranch would provide “a more concentrated, nurturing environment” away from the downtown area, where many homeless individuals’ challenges are rooted.

The facility would offer opportunities for residents to care for animals, raise their own beef and grow their own crops. Whitaker, who serves on the state’s Food Security Committee, says food insecurity is a vital consideration when working with the homeless population, and the mission is dedicated to ensuring clients have healthy food.

John 3:16 is still raising funds to support Hope Ranch, as well as working to secure an appropriate piece of land in rural Tulsa County.

In the meantime, John 3:16 is celebrating the construction of a new 12,000-square-foot cafeteria and kitchen, which is scheduled for completion in late March. When complete, the kitchen will be Tulsa’s largest commercial-grade kitchen preparing meals for the homeless, serving more than 300,000 meals a year, says Scott Wigton, John 3:16 assistant director of development. Following completion of that facility, John 3:16 will begin renovations to its current shelter building, including upgrading the facility and providing additional space for programs and ministry.

The Tulsa Day Center for the Homeless’ mission is to provide a safe, healthy environment for people who are homeless, offering opportunities and encouragement for achieving self-sufficiency. Open 24-7, the facility offers case management, a Community Voice Mail Program, a clinic, life skills classes and on-site access to other service providers.

However, the Day Center is developing a new program that would offer a more permanent alternative for those facing chronic homelessness.

Hudson Villas is a permanent supportive housing program providing a home to 60 formerly homeless individuals. The program is supported through funds from local foundations and grants from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, according to the Day Center’s website. Located at East 11th Street and South Hudson Avenue, the facility will include architectural components of the surrounding neighborhood and will resemble a series of cottages, says Sandra Lewis, Day Center executive director. During the planning phase, Lewis and others involved with Hudson Villas met with Tulsa City Councilor Maria Barnes and neighbors to inform them about the program and receive their feedback. As a result, the site of the building was repositioned on the property as desired by neighbors.

A rendering of Hudson Villas.

The program is designed for chronically homeless individuals who are most vulnerable or who have had the most difficult time maintaining housing.

“We will bring them to a lovely setting and give them the skills to live independently,” Lewis says.

Those skills include teaching residents how to buy groceries, do laundry, clean their living spaces, cook and other activities they may have forgotten since they became homeless.

Hudson Villas will also include a common dining and living room, an exercise room, a computer lab and on-site case management. Residents will have the freedom to stay as long as they need to “regain confidence and want to live more independently,” Lewis says.

Lewis says that while some residents of the surrounding neighborhood may have incorrectly assumed that Hudson Villas is a shelter, she would like to clarify that it is permanent, quality housing, which will include 24-hour security and staffing. She says she also hopes that Hudson Villas will become part of the neighborhood, hosting block parties and creating a neighborhood recycling program.

“We’re really trying to listen to the neighbors and to be responsible to their concerns and to really actively address them,” Lewis says. “And that’s all really exciting. ... It all goes back to what we want for the folks that we’re moving in there, and that is for them to become part of a neighborhood and to become good neighbors.”

Lewis says the project will break ground in spring 2011 and open after 12-18 months of construction.

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