More importantly, if BTBL is really about helping the homeless, why does it seek to uproot the population from downtown?
Ruth Kaiser Nelson was, for all practical purposes, my first Latin teacher. When I was an eighth-grader and starting my first year of Latin, the regular teacher took a leave of absence shortly after the school year began, and Mrs. Nelson filled in for the rest of the semester.
Because the class occurred during the girls' Phys. Ed. period, it was an all-boy class, and Mrs. Nelson, the mother of three boys and a girl, did a fine job of keeping us in line, but also keeping us amused, and giving us a good start in the language. I have only happy memories of her class, which laid the foundation for a lifelong love of the language and literature of ancient Rome.
The Romans had a way with pithy proverbs. Mrs. Nelson is surely familiar with this one: Quod licet Jovi, non licet bovi. Literally, it means, "What is permitted to Jupiter (the king of the gods) is not permitted to the ox."
The proverb justifies double standards for the wealthy and connected, on the one hand, and the hoi polloi on the other. The law that binds the commoner should not inconvenience the plutocrat. He who has the gold not only makes the rules, he's excused from obeying them.
At the August 7 City Council meeting, homeowners from nearby neighborhoods came to protest the location of a 76-unit multistory home for the chronically homeless, some of whom are currently housed at the downtown YMCA, some of whom are mentally ill.
Neighbors were asking the Council to rescind a resolution, passed the previous week, that opened the door for the project to receive $4 million in state funding.
The large apartment building, to be located at 10 S. Yale, between Admiral Pl. and I-244, is part of the Building Tulsa Building Lives (BTBL) initiative. The Ruth K. Nelson Revocable Trust is listed as one of the initiative's principal partners, along with the George Kaiser Family Foundation (Mr. Kaiser and Mrs. Nelson are siblings), and the Tulsa Housing Authority, a public trust of which Mrs. Nelson is the chairman.
At the City Council meeting, Mrs. Nelson characterized the concerns of neighboring homeowners as typical NIMBYism:
"If we were to move all of these facilities to places where no one would protest, they would be in the middle of nowhere . . .
"Isolated people would not have the opportunity to rebuild their lives and become productive members of society."
Mrs. Nelson told the Council that the Admiral and Yale site was chosen for its relative proximity to downtown, where many social service agencies are located, a bus route, and stores within walking distance.
But this plan will make the people she professes to serve more isolated than they are now. At the YMCA, they aren't just close to downtown, they are downtown and near the social service agencies. Her plan would move them four miles from those agencies.
At the Downtown YMCA, residents are a block away from a bus station that gives them access to 20 bus lines which will take them directly to shopping, jobs, doctors, parks, and services without needing to transfer.
Four of those lines provide night-time service to hospitals and schools for shift work and night classes.
Mrs. Nelson wants the Y residents to move to where they'll have only a single, daytime bus line. Going anywhere that isn't on Admiral Pl. will require a long wait for a transfer at the downtown bus station. Going anywhere after 7 at night or on Sundays will be impossible.
At the Downtown Y, residents have the library and the County Courthouse across the street and the State Office Building and a hospital just a few blocks further west. Riverparks is about a mile to the south. There are eight churches within easy walking distance. Social service agencies are just a few blocks to the north.
There aren't any groceries nearby, but there are a few convenience stores not too far away and the bus provides non-stop service to a number of supermarkets.
They won't even have to walk far to see the Eagles or Celine Dion at the BOK Center, assuming arena management would let them in the door.
Walkscore.com gives the Downtown YMCA a rating of 89 -- "very walkable."
The I-244 and Yale location gets a 45 -- "car dependent." Sonic and QuikTrip are nearby, and it's about three-quarters of a mile to the Piggly Wiggly, just past a gun and ammo store. The nearest library is a mile away in Maxwell Park, a small branch in the middle of a neighborhood. There's a bar two blocks away, right across the street from a plasma center. That's about it.
Moving residents of the Downtown Y to I-244 and Yale will make them more isolated than they are now, not less.
Also sorely misplaced, but for a different set of circumstances, is the Diocese of Tulsa's new Catholic Charities' campus at Apache St. and Harvard Ave., the groundbreaking for which was last March. The project is scheduled for completion by summer 2009.
Located far from the homeless, transient and public transport-dependent poor who rely on walkable downtown services, this far-flung, north Tulsa facility will consolidate several locations along the city's downtown fringe.
Indeed, relocating social services far from downtown and the people who need them is something of a trend. Federal facilities, like the VA clinic and the Social Security office, used to be concentrated downtown but are now scattered all across town.
But since most of these clients are on fixed incomes, have limited access to transportation--and, with the cost of gas so high--how will they get there?
Helping the Homeless?
So what's the real reason for moving mentally ill, indigent, and homeless people out of downtown? Because downtown property owners and the BOK Center management and Downtown Tulsa Unlimited are the real NIMBYs. They don't want these people in their backyard.
It says so plainly at www.buildingtulsabuildinglives.org/buildingtulsa/:
"The opening of the BOK Center and other Vision 2025 projects are important components in securing the economic future of downtown Tulsa. But before downtown can become the vibrant destination it has the potential to be, developers and investors must be assured of its inviting and family-friendly environment.
"Eliminating homelessness will attract further development and investment to downtown."
But it's OK for BOK executives and BOK Center management and downtown property interests to be NIMBYs. If your place cost $178 million, you're allowed to say, "There goes the neighborhood," even if that $178 million came mostly from the taxpayers.
You're not allowed to complain if you have only a little 1,000 sq. ft., $60,000 house that you paid for yourself.
You know: Quod licet Jovi, non licet bovi.
What's sardonically funny is that the "neighbors" whom the BOK Center regards as a problem were already there when that site was selected for the arena. Many people (including this writer) pointed out that back in 2003 it wasn't very smart to put an arena in the midst of the jail, the bail bondsmen, the homeless shelters, the Y, the Sheriff's Office, and the Courthouse.
Is it fair for you to be a NIMBY about neighbors who were there before you moved in?
Of course, but only if you're wealthy or connected. Quod licet Jovi, non licet bovi.
While the Council had no power to stop the Admiral and Yale facility last Thursday--Mrs. Nelson said private donors would fill the gap if the Council didn't pass the resolution allowing state funding--councilors didn't need to be condescending to the citizens who came to express their concerns.
According to the daily paper, "After listening to the protests, Councilor John Eagleton said people can try to push such a project out of their neighborhood out of fear, but that doesn't make it right." Shouldn't he have been saying that to the downtown interests who want to clear the homeless out of downtown?
At least Eagleton was there. Councilor David Patrick, whose district borders the I-244 and Yale site, wasn't. And White City residents are wondering when their councilor, Eric Gomez, first knew about the facility, and why he didn't bother to let them know about it.
From what I gather from the City Council meeting, if you're a working-class homeowner, you deserve scorn for not wanting the homeless in your neighborhood. But if you want to shoo the homeless away from the $178 million arena, you're a progressive, civic-minded philanthropist.
Quod licet Jovi, non licet bovi.
Neighbors were told that their fears were unfounded, abhorrent even, a sign of moral inferiority. They were told that the residents of this new facility will not pose a threat to their safety or their property values, thanks to new programs and new methods for helping these people become productive citizens again.
As anxious as downtown interests and BTBL leaders are to drive the homeless out of downtown, one has to wonder if they really believe these new methods work.
If you really wanted to help the homeless to rebuild their lives, and had a new way to do it, wouldn't it be more effective in a remodeled facility downtown, with the added bonus of keeping the homeless and indigent in familiar surroundings and connected to job opportunities and services and transportation?
A support program that will work at Admiral and Yale will work even better at 6th and Denver.
In fact, there is a successful model for providing "supportive housing" for the chronically homeless in the midst of a popular entertainment, shopping, and tourism district.
In the early '90s, New York's Common Ground Community took the old Times Square Hotel at 8th Ave. and 43rd, then a squalid flophouse for hundreds of transients, and renovated the building into more than 600 efficiency units.
Nearly 200 of the old residents were allowed to remain. The building's mix was to include former mental patients and the working poor, along with a staff of social workers to help residents learn the life skills needed to stay off the streets.
The program has been a great success. Common Ground's aggressive "Street to Home" program reached out to the toughest cases, those who had been on the streets the longest. The result was an 87% reduction in the number of homeless in Times Square in a two-year period, as these people have been given housing and a hand up.
The building's ground floor includes a Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream store which partners with Common Ground to provide training and job opportunities for residents. The rooftop terrace is rented out for catered corporate functions.
The Times Square is a good neighbor to expensive hotels and Broadway theaters. A block from the Port Authority Bus Terminal, gateway to New York for many low-income arrivals, it's right where it's needed.
Common Ground's success has been repeated in other buildings around New York and in other cities. They even bought and renovated the old YMCA residence in the Chelsea neighborhood.
It's claimed that Tulsa's YMCA residence has to be demolished because of the new sprinkler regulations. But don't you suppose the Y could be brought up to code for much less than building a new facility at I-244 and Yale?
But Building Tulsa Building Lives backers don't have to be consistent or logical or reasonable to get their way with city government.
Quod licet Jovi, non licet bovi. They can be NIMBYs if they want to be, and no one will call them on it.
Except us, and now, our readers.
On a Related Note
Nobody has been promoting a downtown ball park longer and more enthusiastically than your friends at UTW. But how the stadium is brought downtown, is another question. It seems that quod licet Jovi, non licet bovi applies to exclusive negotiating periods, too.
If you're Mayor Kathy Taylor, of course you should expect Tulsa Drillers owner Chuck Lamson to honor his exclusive negotiating period with the city, and even to extend it if need be. As teary as she was at last week's Tulsa Development Authority meeting, she'd have had a conniption if Lamson had terminated the exclusive negotiating period with Tulsa a month early so he could flirt with Jenks Mayor Vic Vreeland instead.
But how dare lowly entrepreneur Will Wilkins expect the TDA to honor their commitment to an exclusive negotiating period! How dare he rally public support to try to discourage the TDA from breaking their word! Only wealthy and connected and powerful people have a right to expect such commitments to be honored.
The daily wrote of the latest Drillers extension, without a hint of irony: "Exclusive negotiations preclude the team from entertaining other offers...."
Where the TDA is concerned, an "exclusive negotiating period" isn't exclusive, doesn't require negotiating in good faith, and doesn't have to last the full period.
The old pagans of Rome would have understood the double standard. Quod licet Jovi, non licet bovi.
But Tulsans, the vast majority of whom profess to serve the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, should remember that He commands a single standard for all:
"You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor." (Leviticus 19:15.)
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