Early returns on Iron Gate’s relocation last week to a newly constructed facility from a church that the nonprofit had outgrown on the other side of downtown are coming out positive for all parties.
There are greater capacities to offer services, additional space to accommodate more guests comfortably and fewer transients in the area around its previous home in Trinity Episcopal Church at Fifth Street and Cincinnati Avenue in downtown Tulsa.
Speaking over the din of chatter last Thursday, Iron Gate Development Director Ashli Sims pointed to office space for partner agencies along a wall adjacent to a long line of folks awaiting meals. Family & Children’s Services already provides an on-site case manager, and Sims said there are talks with Legal Aid Services of Oklahoma to perhaps occupy another of the three offices.
“Our mission is to feed people. We believe that you can’t really tackle life’s challenges until you’re fed,” Sims said. “But once you’re fed, maybe you can start dealing with some of your other issues. And so that’s why we have those partner offices, so that we can encourage agencies to come in and provide our guests with the services they need.”
Aug. 26 marked the first day for Iron Gate in its 17,000-square-foot building at 501 W. Archer St., adjacent to the Tulsa Day Center for the Homeless.
Coordinators estimate 331 people on average were served each day last week. The previous average at the church was about 245 a day.
Kathy Loehr, F&CS clinical director of homeless and diversion services, said a case manager is on site each weekday to provide general resource referrals and education. The agency is looking at an opportunity to expand services and offer case management and screening there, too.
“I think the access is a big thing because it’s so much closer to our location,” Loehr said, referencing The Salvation Army Center of Hope within the same block. “Their guests will have a lot easier time getting to our offices for services.”
The facility’s footprint is three times the size of Iron Gate’s space in Trinity Episcopal, its home of four decades.
Hannah Middlebrook, director of facilities, communication and volunteers at Trinity, said the church is thrilled that Iron Gate now has a space tailored to its needs to better treat its guests with the dignity they deserve.
Middlebrook said they’ve seen a significant drop in the number of transients near the church, which she believes is because the soup kitchen’s new location is conveniently central to other social services.
“There’s always going to be moments where you’re trying to help the most vulnerable that will be tricky,” Middlebrook said. “But there was never a time we thought someone was more than problematic on the whole.
“The fraction of issues we may have had were negligible in comparison to the good work Iron Gate did while they were here.”
Iron Gate guests are enjoying a space that spaciously seats 217 instead of 88 in tight quarters. A covered patio with a fireplace has fans and misters for summer and heaters for winter. There is table and countertop seating inside.
Tony Lee has been a regular at the soup kitchen for a few years. The 48-year-old enjoys helping out staff in addition to receiving meals.
Lee said he likes the modern style and feel of the new facility.
“The building is outstanding,” he said. “It’s beautiful inside and out.”
Lee said he and the community are blessed to have Iron Gate to assist not just with meals but also with housing, clothing and other resources. Knowing the soup kitchen is open seven days a week is a comfort.
He said he’s spoken with people from other states who tell him the homeless population has a better chance to succeed here than elsewhere.
“They say Oklahoma is one of the few states that helps its homeless,” Lee said.
Tulsa Police Sgt. Jennifer Murphy talks about the Tulsa Police new reading program and school supply handout at the Darlington Apartments.