Police responding to a bomb scare following a Thunder basketball game this week instead encountered what they say is a long-lingering problem at the Cox Convention Center.
The center, they say, is a haven for the homeless.
Located at 1 Myriad Gardens, directly across Reno Avenue from the Chesapeake Energy Arena, the convention center houses the city’s hockey arena and numerous exhibit halls and meeting rooms. Designed to allow easy and constant access for event organizers, it also makes it an easy spot for homeless to take shelter.
After Tuesday evening’s basketball game between the Thunder and the San Antonio Spurs, a police officer found a suspicious package on the concourse walkway bridge connecting the Cox Center and the Renaissance Hotel. Police eventually determined the package wasn’t a bomb. Instead, it was a bag containing a homeless man’s belongings.
Police arrested the man on suspicion of public intoxication.
Oklahoma City police Capt. Dexter Nelson said it’s common for the homeless to sneak into the locked convention center after business hours, sometimes using a parking garage elevator. Others wait for someone to leave the building and then slip through the closing door, he said.
Once inside, it’s difficult to locate someone in the vast building.
“People can hide and sleep, and you’d never know they were there,” Nelson said.
Because restrooms are locked when the building is closed to the public, homeless people sometimes relieve themselves in the halls, Nelson said.
The homeless also enter the building during the workday. Some steal food and other small items from vendors that often will initially go unnoticed, Nelson said.
The center employs 24-hour security, said Tim Linville, director of marketing and sales at the convention center. Trespassers are escorted out of the building. Most leave with little resistance, he said. Off-duty police officers work during scheduled events, he said.
Dan Straughan, executive director of Homeless Alliance, said many of the hundreds of homeless people living in Oklahoma City can’t or won’t go to one of the city’s 12 homeless shelters.
“Those folks seek shelter wherever they can find it; under a bridge, in a culvert, at the Cox Center, if it’s open,” Straughan said. “That’s what’s going on there. If people are going in the Cox Center, it’s because it’s relatively safe, warm and dry.”