Tulsa Church Defies City On Housing Homeless

Monday, December 16th 2019, 4:22 am
By: Emory Bryan

The City of Tulsa is trying to find housing for 22 homeless people now living in a Tulsa church, after the church missed two deadlines to move everyone out.

The Tulsa Fire Marshal started an investigation in November, when firefighters responding to a call found 14 people living in rooms without heat and proper sanitation, using space heaters in areas filled with clothing and furniture. The potential for a fire has the Fire Department considering posting a firefighter at the church, and charging fees to pay for it.

Wilma Vinita, a resident of Wesley Chapel, doesn’t want to move.  “It's a lot better than being out in the cold; it's a lot better than being under a bridge, and it's definitely safer.”  Vinita was homeless until she moved into the church, but she may not be able to stay much longer.

The City has ordered Pastor Chris Beach to stop having people spend the night in the building, but so far, Beach has refused. “The city asked us a couple of months ago to get everybody out immediately, that day and I said we're not going to do that, we're not going to kick anybody out to the streets.”

Beach said he started allowing homeless people to live in the building two years ago. The Fire Department found 14 people living there in November. Now there are 22. The City mobilized an outreach team to start trying to find people other housing.

Fire Marshal Andy Teeter said the department could not ignore the situation, which he considers dangerous. The Marshal’s Office documented crowded sleeping conditions, with string lights and extension cords used underneath piles of clothing. The fire department says the Pastor continues to move people in without making any of the changes required to make it safe.

Pastor Beach disputes that. "So we've done everything they've asked us to do and they still want everybody to leave until we're officially approved.”

Tulsa Fire responded to 32 calls at the church through November, mostly for a malfunctioning alarm. The city believes that alone is a serious safety hazard and plans to be back out at the church this week, to ensure it's not used for overnight shelter without some changes.

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