Tulsa adding animal shelter to help homeless stay with pets

Tulsa adding animal shelter to help homeless stay with pets

Since she lost her husband earlier this year, not much has gone right for Debi Copeland.

But having a friend at her side, she said, has at least helped her survive emotionally.

“We’re both very laid back. I think she gets that from me,” she said of Lily, her canine companion, who peered up drowsily from a blanket next to Copeland at the Tulsa Day Center on Friday.

Copeland, 69, said she and Lily — a 5-year-old shih tzu-Jack Russell mix — are staying at the center’s shelter and will be there until at least June 21, when she expects to move into an apartment.

In the meantime, so she can keep Lily with her, shelter staff have provided a portable carrier for her to use.

“They’ve been very good to us,” Copeland said.

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Situations like Copeland’s have been on center officials’ and city leaders’ minds for some time. But now, at last, they say help is on the way.

On Friday a groundbreaking ceremony was held at the Day Center for a new animal shelter, which when finished will house up to 10 animals while their owners are staying at the shelter or accessing services.

“Data tells us that about 20% to 25% of unsheltered individuals have pets and that oftentimes that’s a barrier to them coming in to access services,” said Mack Haltom, Day Center director.

The 600-square-foot facility, expected to open in November, will be climate-controlled.

Money for the project includes $230,000 from the city’s American Rescue Plan Act funding, along with $252,000 in private funding.

Tulsa Deputy Mayor Cassia Carr, a member of the city’s Housing, Homelessness and Mental Health Task Force, said she and her fellow task force members, along with Mayor G.T. Bynum, are enthusiastically supportive of the project.

“We need a place for people to bring their pets,” Carr said. “I don’t want to get rid of my pet, and they want their pets. So people need to be able to bring their pets in, and then they won’t be on the streets. They’ll be here to access services they need to improve their lives.”

‘They’ve given me hope’

Copeland moved back to Tulsa in January after several years in Joplin and Houston.

She and her husband were divorced, she said, but were in the process of reconciling.

When he died unexpectedly earlier this year, it was a blow, she said.

Copeland had always been able to provide for herself. An Air Force veteran and former teacher, she taught many years at Whitman Elementary School.

But given her age now and circumstances, she’s been forced to seek services.

“I never thought I would see this side of Tulsa,” she said of life in a homeless shelter. “But here I am.”

While Copeland was not deterred from seeking the services she needs, that’s not the case for many homeless people who have animals, officials said.

Carr said: “We have learned that more often than not many of these folks are not seeking services because they know they won’t be able to bring their pet or service animal with them. And by not seeking temporary housing, they will also miss out on the wraparound supports that will be provided to them by partners such as the Day Center.”

City Councilor Lori Decter-Wright, who joined Carr in speaking at the groundbreaking ceremony, added: “Now they won’t be faced with the choice between helping themselves or helping their animals. They can do both.”

Day Center officials will partner with other organizations to plan and operate the shelter.

“We will be forming an advisory board to help guide us with policies and best practices,” said Sara Delgado, Day Center board chair.

“Also, once it’s up and running, we want to keep it that way,” Delgado added. “We need operational funding, but we also need things like dog food and treats and collars and leashes. So if anybody has those, we will always welcome them.”

While her life has taken a turn she never expected, Copeland is grateful for the Day Center staff and services.

“They’ve given me hope,” she said.

The news that the center is getting an animal shelter “is very exciting,” Copeland added.

“Not that I plan to be here in November. But I’m glad it will be here for others like me.”

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Tulsa adding animal shelter to help homeless stay with pets

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