Mayor bristles at criticism from homeless service providers of draft ordinance

Tulsa Mayor GT Bynum expressed disappointment Wednesday at the critical response from local homeless advocates to an ordinance the mayor introduced last week aimed at forcing homeless Tulsans out of certain public spaces.

Speaking at a meeting of the Tulsa City Council’s Urban and Economic Development Committee, Bynum touted what he sees as his administration’s good faith when it comes to addressing homelessness.

“It really disappointed me to see all that we have done as a city government over the past few years, which no city government has ever done before, to help the non-profit community that is trying to helping homeless people in Tulsans,” Bynum said.

“And for us to be accused of trying to criminalize homelessness when we’re doing everything we’ve been asked to do for the past few years to fund Tulsans homelessness, I think that creates – there got way too much of an extreme choice here,” Bynum said. “We can help those who are homeless in Tulsa while protecting the rights of neighborhoods and business operators, and that’s the intent of the ordinance. “

Becky Gligo, executive director of Tulsa’s homeless services agency Housing Solutions, was among critics who, following the mayor’s introduction of an ordinance prohibiting sitting or lying on the sidewalks, said the mayor was proposing to “criminalize homelessness”.

In a statement emailed Thursday, Gligo said it stands by the use of the phrase. She also expressed concern over the mayor’s recent stance on homelessness.

“As the [U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development] funded coalition to fight homelessness in Tulsa that the two [the Tulsa Police Department] and of which the City is a part, we would like open and transparent communication from all our partners. We hope we can continue to work with the City on evidence-based practices that support our shared strategic plan to make homelessness rare, brief and non-recurring,” Gligo said.

“As we meet regularly, I was surprised and disappointed not to be included in this discussion. The past two weeks have been a worrying departure from the fruitful collaboration we have enjoyed since 2020,” she concluded.

At City Hall on Wednesday, Bynum defended his lack of consultation with Housing Solutions and other groups before offering his order last week.

“Someone is always going to ask you, ‘How come you talked to them about it and not me?’ I felt the most important people I could talk to about how the city regulates our sidewalks and our rights of way were the nine of you,” Bynum told the nine councilmen.

“It was no small feat for A Way Home For Tulsa,” the collective of dozens of housing and homelessness groups for which Housing Solutions is the lead agency, Bynum said. “Mark Hogan, who is my representative on this board, did not feel he should talk about it in a vacuum until I had a chance to introduce him to the board.”

Bynum said the order was written at the request of the police department. In a new modified form Introduced on Wednesday by TPD Legal Counsel Becky Johnson, the order would no longer criminalize acts of sitting or lying on sidewalks and other rights of way, but rather “obstructing” those rights of way.

“I wonder how ‘obstruction’ can be interpreted in an unreasonable way,” replied District 4 Councilwoman Kara Joy McKee. “What’s the wiggle room there?”

“There is obviously an element of discretion by officers and prosecutors in all of this,” said City Attorney Jack Blair. “You can never account for all the circumstances.”

The ordinance as currently amended would require an officer to warn a person before issuing a citation, which would result in a fine of up to $100 and up to five days in jail for the first offense with penalties likely to increase for subsequent convictions.

Council chair Lori Decter Wright asked how the warning system would work.

“So if anyone gets a warning in front of David L. Moss [Criminal Justice Center]then they go down to Iron Gate [food pantry] or any of the others – For example, how far does this warning go, right? If they were in a place they moved it, so that’s the second time do not the warning?” asked Decter Wright.

TPD Deputy Chief Eric Dalgleish said the warning could follow an individual to other locations, and someone warned at one location could be cited days later for the same activity in a completely new location. .

“It gives me heartburn,” Decter Wright said.

District 1 Councilwoman Vanessa Hall-Harper suggested the ordinance could cause some homeless people to find themselves entangled in the criminal justice system “ultimately because they have nowhere to live.” .

Decter Wright said she had invited Housing Solutions to address council regarding her views on the ordinance, a presentation tentatively scheduled for June.

“There’s a lot of nuance here, and it’s unfortunate that things get a headline or a social media post and then, you know, we all have great emotions and reactions,” Decter Wright said. “It’s really important that as leaders we focus on the facts, what we plan to pass that would help solve and the things you’re still going to see.”

Richard F. Gandhi