Housing crisis causes problems for local homeless community

TULSA, Okla. — People trying to help Tulsa’s homeless community said they’re facing a huge problem at the moment because of a lack of affordable housing.

They said many landlords won’t accept housing vouchers and new homes aren’t being built.

Paul Schmidt runs The Merchant homeless shelter and he said he’s seeing more homeless people than ever – around 200 in 2 hours.

“We used to run 80 to 150 people in 2 hours, recently the numbers have started climbing pretty substantially,” said Schmidt.

He said the uptick in numbers has to do with the heat but he also said it’s because many people just cant find places to live.

“In Tulsa right now we are very empty on affordable housing, the apartment rates are at 97% full, so there’s 3% left we have...I think there’s over 1400 on those lists to be housed,” said Schmidt. “We just need doors to open to get them in and right now, just don’t have the doors to open.”

“It’s bad, I mean when you have no place to put ‘em, they want to get off the streets because its 100 plus degrees outside, and there’s a lot of hope lost because there is no place to go,” he continued.

Housing vouchers help people find affordable homes to rent but Paul said the problem is that many landlords aren’t accepting them.

“They get their hopes up, they’ve got a voucher, and there’s no place that will take that voucher, and so it’s just that stuck place where they have no place to move forward in that,” said Schmidt.

“The landlords, a lot of them are choosing to take the fair market renters which are paying the 800, 1200, 1400, instead of just accepting a voucher that’s probably six to seven hundred dollars, and so it’s hard to get people placed right now,” he continued.

Josh Sanders is from the Tulsa nonprofit Housing Solutions and he said the problem is made worse by landlords coming in from out of state. He also said Tulsa needs to build more homes.

“We have to do something, we’re at a point that if we don’t do something soon, we’re going to continue to lose the available stock that we’ve had access to, and we’re not building any new stock, so there are no units becoming available and we’re losing access to units on a regular basis, so without any intervention, without us doing something soon, we’re going to be in a lot more trouble,” said Sanders.

Sanders also said there’s a stigma attached to homelessness and the voucher system and the community and developers need to step up and help

“There’s a lot of stigma attached to people experiencing homelessness and the voucher system as a whole, and I think that we need the community as a whole to realize that the people experiencing homelessness are our friends, our neighbors, our family, they’re people from within our community and we desperately need to accept those vouchers and we need to help them get into the housing that they need and deserve,” he said.

Housing Solutions said there were around 300 evictions last month, couple with losing places to rent and a lack of new building, they say it could create a serious crisis.

“We have to have more housing available, we’re not building any 3-star housing units within the City of Tulsa right now, at all, and we have to start building housing...” Sanders said.