The reports coming out of The Jesus House paint a dismal future for the downtown homeless shelter. At a time when a souring economy was creating greater strain on services for the homeless, the shelter reported donations dropping 21 percent, and unpaid utility bills being met with cutoff notices.
We've been hearing such reports for 20 years. Literally.
The report I'm citing may accurately describe the shelter's current situation as it faces scrutiny for a six-figure director's salary. But it actually goes back to a July 18, 1990, story in The Oklahoman.
That same year I was hired by the paper and initially covered the police beat. Even back then, covering crime, fires and misery — and all too often, the woes facing the homeless — the city's response to its downtrodden didn't make sense.
Who, after all, would intentionally create a ring of social services for the homeless that would require them to walk from the east side of downtown, home to the "detox center" where homeless individuals with substance abuse issues needed to dry out, and then operate a handful of shelters all blocks apart from each other south, west and north of downtown?
Such arrangements have proven maddening to the downtown business community. Those I've talked to are sympathetic to the plight of the less fortunate, but the daily trek of those needing help back and forth across downtown is seen as detrimental to both the homeless and efforts to revitalize the central core.
The Jesus House and City Rescue Mission historically have served as two of the leading shelters. And whether or not The Jesus House survives this latest and perhaps greatest threat to its existence, community leaders apparently have shared my early bewilderment and are determined to make changes.
The changes are slow but steady. The Homeless Alliance has spent the past several years establishing a center at NW 3 and Virginia Avenue that aims to not just provide comfort to the homeless, but help them get back on their feet. Services are being centralized.
The walk from the detox center will be dramatically reduced this next year when it moves from Deep Deuce to Linwood Boulevard and Virginia Avenue. The City Rescue Mission, meanwhile, is a far more sophisticated operation than it was when it was located along S Robinson in the early 1990s — and is also a lot closer to the West Town center.
Those long familiar with downtown's struggles with the homeless may recall the current home of the City Rescue Mission, 800 W California, was previously yet another shelter that competed for money and support — the REST.
Add to the closing of REST several years ago the more recent departure of the downtown Baptist Mission and a picture emerges — services are consolidating and becoming more centralized on the western fringe of downtown.
How The Jesus House fits into this pattern may very well be determined by whether it can survive its current crisis.