City Hall

Tulsans will go to the polls June 28 for the city’s nonpartisan mayoral primary.

Every Sunday between now and election day, incumbent Mayor Dewey Bartlett and his main challenger, City Councilor G.T. Bynum, will answer questions submitted by Tulsans.

We’re calling it “So You Want to be Mayor?”

If you would like to submit a question, email it to The Frontier at

This week’s question comes from The Rev. Steven P. Whitaker, president and senior pastor of the John 3:16 Mission.  Whitaker runs the John 3:16 homeless shelter and has been a tireless advocate for that community for many years.

Here is Rev. Whitaker’s question: According to our recent one-night count, despite our best efforts last year homelessness is on the rise in Tulsa. We all know the cause but the effect has been devastating for many Tulsans.

“However, when ministries or nonprofits announce plans to expand to meet growing needs they are often left to fend for themselves with little or no help from City Hall.
“What will you do to address this issue and make a real difference for Tulsans experiencing homelessness?”

Response from Mayor Bartlett:

Homelessness hurts our city, our economy and, most importantly, the individuals themselves on a number of levels. There are many reasons by which people can end up on the street, and it’s a problem that we must continually address.
As mayor, I chose to form a coalition of the many charitable organizations here in Tulsa to start the difficult and rewarding process of addressing the needs of our homeless population.
A few years ago, we began the Mayor’s Homelessness Response Group, which brings all of these organizations along with their particular expertise to the table, and we established a coordinated and meaningful effort to confront the problem head on.
We’ve been able to direct individuals toward organizations that focus on mental health, feeding the hungry, solving panhandling issues, providing cheap transportation, putting a roof over their heads and taking care of our veterans who have served our country honorably.
Mayor Dewey Bartlett

Mayor Dewey Bartlett

My father was a veteran, and so am I. When our veterans are out on the streets it really brings up a soft spot for me. These men and women have given a remarkable amount of themselves to our country, and I feel that it is our duty as American citizens to take care of them and provide them with the help that they need.
There is no silver bullet when it comes to solving these issues because they differ widely on an individual basis, but pairing these organizations with the persons who need their specific services has proven to be an effective strategy.
There are also large-scale solutions for homelessness by way of economic growth and maintaining the tax rate at affordable levels. Sales tax, which is the only revenue source that Oklahoma municipalities can draw from, is a tax that affects everyone.  It is the goal of my administration to keep our sales taxes low in order to protect those who are struggling to make it to their next paycheck as well as to continue to create good paying jobs for Tulsa in the long term.

Homelessness is an extremely complex issue and we will continue to be committed to meeting the problem with an equally thoughtful and effective response.

Response from Councilor Bynum:
In the 1920s, Tulsa had a mayor we have largely forgotten.  His name was Frank Wooden, and he was eventually impeached on corruption charges (the only mayor in Tulsa history to meet that fate).  But before impeachment, he touted himself as a pro-business mayor.

One of Mayor Wooden’s “pro-business” initiatives was to round up all of the blind beggars on the streets of Tulsa one day, and put them on a train out of town.  This was actually touted at the time as an accomplishment.  Today, when I tell people this story, they can hardly believe it is true.

As we consider issues related to homelessness, I challenge us to keep this perspective in mind: that which may seem convenient for us today — but which is done at the expense of those less fortunate  is not remembered with admiration by history.

In my time on the City Council, we have dealt with several issues impacting Tulsa’s homeless population.  We approved transitional housing on Yale Avenue in a difficult vote that arguably cost two city councilors their jobs.  We also approved block grant funding to assist the Day Center for the Homeless in their efforts to provide more shelter and medical care for those in need.  When the state of Oklahoma tried to shut down the Night Light Tulsa program, the City Council stood up for this important service and kept it in place.

City Councilor G.T. Bynum

City Councilor G.T. Bynum

One issue that was not resolved in a win-win way (and which I presume is the genesis of this question) was the Iron Gate relocation matter.  That program, which provides food to the hungry, wanted to move from its overcrowded facility in a downtown church and relocate to a facility on the outskirts of downtown.  Business owners in the proposed relocation area raised concerns about the impact on their property values of destitute pedestrians  many of them homeless  making a daily commute to that facility.  I don’t begrudge them this objection.  As property owners, they have a right to voice their concern when a land-use planning decision impacting them is being made.

The failing in this instance was that neither the concerned property owners nor the city government worked with Iron Gate proponents to find a more desirable location.  The people who receive help at Iron Gate deserved better.  We should always strive to find win-win solutions.

Moving ahead, I believe the best thing the city government can do to assist homeless Tulsans is to accommodate the work of non-profit organizations.  This is an area where Tulsa is fortunate to have tremendous philanthropic generosity and far better expertise in the not-for-profit space than anything available to the city.

As mayor, I will continue the approach I have taken as a city councilor: seeking outside funding to supplement non-profit efforts; facilitating collaboration between those service providers and neighbors; and standing up for those fine organizations in our community who are helping Tulsans in need when government bureaucracies make that help more difficult.