Tulsa Groups Plan How To Use Stimulus Money

Wednesday, March 4th 2009, 5:04 pm
By: News On 6

By Scott Thompson, The News On 6

TULSA, OK -- More than $4 million in stimulus money is headed to Tulsa from the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The money will be used for everything from helping the homeless to rebuilding public housing.

The Mental Health Association in Tulsa is getting more than $1 million.

Lolita Bechem is homeless and a recovering crack cocaine addict. She has spent the past three months living in a small apartment at 12th Street Safe Haven and has no doubts where she would be without its help.

"Under a bridge," she said. "Living under a bridge, homeless under a bridge."

Safe Haven is operated by the Mental Health Association. Officials hope to turn the $1 million into much more.

"Typically every dollar that we get turns into $5, $6, $7 -- every dollar of federal money that we get," said Greg Shinn, associate director of Tulsa's Mental Health Association.

Shinn says the money will be put to use paying for new projects, making repairs and improving shelters across Tulsa.

But he says the biggest economic impact comes by getting the homeless off the street.

"Once people get into affordable housing, now they can access better health care on a regular basis," Shinn said. "Their rate of hospitalization drops to almost nothing. They don't use the emergency rooms. They're not being incarcerated and so, therefore, the cost to the taxpayers goes down dramatically."

The Tulsa Housing Authority is also getting a big check, more than $5 million. It manages 14 public housing communities in town.

The housing authority's CEO says the money will be used to modernize and make repairs to its facilities.

The economic impact will be seen over time as the authority contracts out for each project.

Bechem says it's good to see money coming to those down on their luck. She says places like Safe Haven deserve it.

"It helps keep you sober," she said. "It helps keep you motivated. It helps get your self-esteem better. It makes you feel better."

Mental Health Association officials say they also plan to use the money to hire new employees.

The associate director says its books are public record and vows plans are in place to make sure the money is spent appropriately.