Experts Seeing Younger Homeless On Downtown Tulsa Streets
TULSA, Oklahoma - There's been a recent surge of transients downtown and one expert said he believes it's connected to young people using synthetic marijuana.
A lot of people said they're seeing more transients than ever before, and the problem has two angles; young, aggressive panhandlers and people sleeping down town and using the streets for a bathroom.
There's a lot of speculation on the causes, but plenty of confirmation that something has quickly changed.
The police encountered a homeless man downtown Thursday who had been walking in the middle of traffic. He is just one of the hundreds of transients living downtown; part of what appears to be a surge in their numbers.
Even experts on downtown's homeless don't know what has suddenly changed, especially with the age of the transients - they're younger than usual.
John 3:16 Director Steve Whitaker believes most of the new crowd is young people using K-2; the synthetic marijuana.
“You can chalk it up to the weather, you can chalk it up if you want to, we've been working up to this for the last month. We can absolutely corroborate there's a younger group of young, aggressive people that are out there, that are that are causing problems on the streets,” he said.
There's been a sudden and substantial increase in people sleeping downtown, and there's plenty of evidence of it - enough to cause problems for people who work and live downtown and even for the ministries trying to help them.
First Baptist Church decided to fence off part of their Caring Center because of continued vandalism.
QuikTrip removed outside tables and hired extra security at their 15th and Denver store because of the surge in transients harassing their customers.
At the Iron Gate Food Pantry they served 95 families Thursday morning.
“Last year at this time a big day would have been 55, so the growth we're seeing at Iron Gate is working poor, not homeless,” said Connie Cronley with Iron Gate.
The Centennial Green at 6th and Main has become a new gathering spot for transients and police have responded with more frequent patrols that temporarily clear out the crowds.
There were 34 transients there Wednesday and Whitaker's staff determined 24 of them were new on the streets.
“I hate to just speculate, all we know is that they're young, they're aggressive, they're not compliant of what we'd ask them to do at John 3:16 Mission. They'll come in sometimes, but this is not the normal crowd that we're used to,” Whitaker said.
Thursday evening there were at least 25 people at Centennial Green despite increased patrols. There are still a lot of people sleeping and causing problems downtown.