Homeless shelters like John 3:16 Mission in downtown Tulsa are keeping doors unlocked during the freezing temperatures and all year round.
For the last two weeks the mission has had so many men staying overnight that it opened the lobby doors for men to sleep on the benches, that’s more than 200 men sleeping inside.
Reverend Steve Whitaker said they will never turn anyone away.
“We will always find a bed for someone, whether it’s here, or at the Salvation Army or we will open up our chapel doors if we need to,” said Reverend Whitaker. “I always fear this time of year when they talk about the cold fronts coming though.”
In the last two weeks Whitaker has seen three homeless people die on Tulsa streets because they did not come inside from the cold weather.
“We had a guy who refused to come in and may have been sick; I’m not sure what was wrong with him but he laid down in the street and didn’t make it,” said Whitaker. “We found him dead in the morning right across the street from us. Another day there was a person who went to sleep under the bridge, and it was one of the mornings when it was 15 degrees and they didn’t have proper protection and he died. The third person was a woman who died from the cold.”
Every year Whitaker knows these deaths will happen, and he believes the mission will have to start its emergency shelter plan, to turn the chapel into a bedroom if more men need a place to come in from the cold. It would be the first time Whitaker has ever had to do that in the 23 years he has worked at the mission.
“Many of them do not want help,” he said. “Others wait until the last second to come inside here and get warm. A lot of guys abuse and drink. When the weather dips, alcohol makes people feels like they are warm, so I’ve heard. So it’s not uncommon to have someone walk up here barefoot, who thought he was warm but wasn’t warm. You’ll find people who have frozen feet and frozen hands. It’s a gut-wrenching feeling every time because I tried everything I could to tell them to come inside. I even drive my big four-wheel-drive car through the snow if I have to, to where they live outside at their campgrounds to pick them up and take them inside.”
John 3:16 Mission provides meals, beds, blankets, and shelter every night, doors open at 4:00 p.m. The staff is always accepting donations. That is how they provide all their services. They are still renovating their building and adding on to their current building. Their $2.75 million dollar renovation started three years ago and by the end of next year they will have added a women’s shelter to one end, and another 29 showers. They have already added an entire building that was completed one year ago. It includes a new lobby and cafeteria.