Driving to work one day on a cold morning, I saw a homeless man with a sign at the sign of the road – ‘Homeless veteran, any help appreciated’ . It was a cold miserable morning to be out in the elements, and it made me mad to see this man on a median begging. So, I rolled down my window and asked the guy to walk over to the QuickTrip across the street from where he was, and I would buy him breakfast. So, I met several of these men and discovered them to be honorable patriots that had not been able to find steady work and accommodation since leaving the military. I asked point blank where he lived. He pointed to Jenks bridge and said; ‘I stay up under that bridge’. So I asked, if he had checked out any local shelters and he said: ‘Been there, done that, and here’s what happened. Too much theft, drugs and bugs that result in fights. Problem is, I served two tours in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, and it is a lot safer for society, if I remain under that bridge, cause I’m combat trained, and if I fight, people are going to die or be seriously hurt’. My heart went out to this warrior, sharing his heart transparently with me. The injustice and severity of the situation made me angry, and as I played the radio, this song came on: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b_RjndG0IX8, Through the music, I felt strongly then and still do today,that God is speaking to me to DO SOMETHING! We who have not endured the bullets and bodies and blood, have no comprehension of the marks these leave on the human soul. I believe we need to do better for these warriors who have left all in deployment to voluntarily defend the freedoms we all enjoy. I want to partner with our community to create homes for hero’s, and win the battle for our home front as they successfully finally come home.
The question to be answered is: ‘Will we do something like this to help the 140( current statistic obtained from the Community Service Council of homeless vets registered with the VA) homeless veterans here in Tulsa, Oklahoma?’ This is only the number registered with the VA, in speaking to homeless caregivers, I’m told that number is more like 400 vets living on the streets of Tulsa.
I am convinced it needs to be done and can be done with the support of the people of Tulsa: Kansas City did it, and though we are not affiliated in any way with this group, they have set an example about what should and can be done for homeless vets.
For all practical intents and purposes. they have eliminated veteran homelessness in Kansas City, except for a couple hard core homeless men that would rather stay in their camps than have their own home.
The VA does a great job with medical support, and there are resources here to help vets reintegrate into civilian life, but these resources are very tough to access living under a bridge or in a tent village.
Several months ago I drove up Kansas City to tour the tiny home community up there, to see what we can learn in my attempt to do something similar in Tulsa. A group of concerned Tulsa vets and myself are scheduled to drive up again on July 10th to meet again with Chris Admire, executive director there.
Veterans Community Project Update
Well, I have continued to stir the Tulsa pot to generate support for a transitional housing community of tiny homes for homeless veterans here in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Last Spring I attended our City council meeting, and met briefly afterward with councilman Cas Fahler, and told him what I am trying to do. I asked him if the City might potentially get behind this project, and he bluntly asked: What do you need from the City? I said: Could you donate the land for this on a bus route so guys can get to work? His response was encouraging: ‘ I can’t speak for the rest of the council, but we definitely have land available, do you have a site plan?’At that point, I did not, but I contacted our architect from work, and though he is willing to help, this COVID insanity has really hurt his company, and presently he does not have staff available to produce actual drawings. I then spoke with my friend from City Elders, the legendary Leon Ragsdale. Leon and I have met and toured the site and contacted Incog, and Leon has produced a site plan and floor plan for the cabins.
So I thought back to my visit to the Kansas City Veterans Community Project, and remember how impressed I was with the community center and offices that housed the case managers that daily meet with vets to help them with everything from job searches to cooking classes, to obtaining medical and even dental treatment, and how impressed I was with the quality of care being provided our warriors, and ultimate patriots as they transition from military to civilian life. So I made an appointment and met with Dr. Horton at ‘The Coffee Bunker’ (https://www.coffeebunker.org/) and spoke with him about my desire. He is an amazing man, with a real heart to help vets transition into normal life here back home. They provide a drop-in coffee house, that provides services to help vets transition, and he too sees the need for transitional housing for homeless vets. He taught me a new word that seems to fit what we need to do here: Bivouac:
He told me that they already have access to several hundred permanent housing units available to them, but that unless people received the counseling and life skills training our program would offer, it has been his experience that most vets crash and burn being placed in permanent housing units, often getting evicted within the first two months, due to lack of community support and lack of accountability and life skills. Up until recently, the veteran suicide rate has been 22/ day, but I heard that number is now down to 17/day. Still far to high!
Here’s a scenario in real life. So, the case managers and transitional support team do their job and get a vet their benefit package so they now have enough money to easily live well, and they get that monthly check. Unfortunately, many hit the casino and blow it all in a night, instead of having a friend call up and say:’Hey you get your check soldier? Instead of hitting the casino, let’s go out to eat, and pay some bills’. Suddenly, the slogan becomes real ‘No man left behind’ and that warrior has a far better month than playing the one-arm bandits for a night.
In the facility I saw in Kansas City, this was addressed daily, through great community support and the work of the staff there, and a large community of volunteer vets helping other vets, keeping military honor and freedom alive.
Visiting with Chris Admire, associate director of Veterans Community Project – Kansas City
SO I asked Dr Horton point-blank. “Sir, f I can get this facility built, would you be willing to move your office and staff into it, to provide all the transitional services you are experienced in’ HE said: ‘Sure, that there is a need for transitional housing for vets here in Tulsa, and this program could fill the gap in services available for the homeless veteran population here in town.
 According to statistics obtained from CRC. The Community Research Council, the VA records at least 140 homeless vets are on the streets of Tulsa, OK.
As we have met and brainstormed, we recognize the need for a community food bank that serves the community during these covid insane times. I’d love to say that I came up with this idea, but as part of my proposal to the Tulsa school Board, they suggested I perform a community impact study with local residents from the neighborhood surrounding the school. So, I asked if one of the warriors from the Victory for Vets group might consider walking around the community with me, talking to residents, to see what they thought about our proposal.
After speaking with 12 families they requested:
1. That the play structure remain open to the public as there is no public park in that area and
2. Implement a community food bank to help elderly residents living on social security to survive.
3. Install a splash pad on the opposit end
The community center becomes the hub of the community, and if done right can house office space for case managers, transition counsellors, intake and outreach workers, and it become a one-stop shop for veterans to receive community services all workin together in this mission, to deliberately develop a support and accountability network so that veterans can get back on their feet and transition to permanent housing. A school or community building could be remodeled to provide all these services under one roof.
Tiny homes are sized at 16×20′ footprint or just over 300sf of living space/veteran. We could build a couple units as large as 1000sf for military families in transition.
Since the current layout of this school has adequate room for all the veteran’s services, and a 1000sf walk-in cooler to receive shipments of food that require refrigeration, with a loading dock.
Throughout this covid nightmare, clearly mental health has become a priority. In the gym, I would like to plant a church, to preach uplifting messages to encourage the hearts and minds of attendees. I pastored 5 years, so ministry that adds value to people is in my DNA…