Mutual aid group Tulsa Food Not Bombs went viral on Facebook last week after allegations against the city of Tulsa’s handling of unhoused people during this past week’s polar vortex.
On Friday, Feb. 12, Tulsa Food Not Bombs, established a campsite called “The Maybelle Emergency Zone,” or The MEZ. The volunteer group posted on social media the following: “As the temperatures keep falling we will see more horrifying losses of life not just to the weather but to the city of tulsa’s and Mayor’s GT byums inaction and unwillingness to value the lives of our houseless neighbors. Tulsa Food Not Bombs has declared the Maybelle Bridge (maybelle and reconciliation way) an emergency zone, the Maybelle Emergency Zone (The MEZ). Tulsa Food Not Bombs had been coordinating hot meals and weather appropriate supplies for the tulsa houseless community in this area for some time now and we will continue doing so. We will be at the MEZ distributing warm supplies, hot meals, snacks and drinks and ensuring the safety of our houseless neighbors.” The community response to The MEZ was other essentials.
After the sun had gone down, the Tulsa Police Department arrived on the scene and informed The MEZ volunteers that they had deemed the firewood to be a safety hazard and gave the group two hours to pack up and move out with their supplies. In a Feb. 13 Facebook post, Tulsa Food Not Bombs wrote, “They’re taking away people’s ability to keep themselves warm during a state of emergency winter storm by declaring their fires illegal, even though we purchased backyard fire pits with grated lids and everything, even though the fire marshall has come through every four hours and said we’re doing a great job.”
Tulsa mayor GT Bynum responded to these allegations during a press conference, commenting that “Outreach workers worked to get everyone from that encampment into shelter.” He continued, “After that had occurred and the camp had been vacated, the fire marshal determined that there were about four dumptruck loads worth of scrap lumber and wood meant for burning underneath a highway bridge. That’s where this encampment was located, under a highway bridge. The fire marshal felt that that presented an imminent danger and directed for it to be removed.”
Tulsa Food Not Bombs maintains that Mayor Bynum’s characterization of the city’s actions is inaccurate, claiming that inadequate housing was provided for unhoused citizens and citing the many barriers that might prevent a person from seeking out shelter at a shelter. Shelters may not allow pets, or people to bring in their belongings. Tulsa Food Not Bombs argues that those who will not seek shelter still deserve to be kept warm.
In an interview with Chris Polansky for Public Radio Tulsa, one volunteer said that “If people don’t want to go, they don’t want to go. I think that it’s a failure of the city that they have no safe options that they trust […] I think that that’s a problem of the city that they don’t trust any of your solutions for them. And they’d rather stay out here. I think that shows that the city has not done enough for homeless people.”
After the firewood had been confiscated, Tulsa Food Not Bombs encouraged those residing in The MEZ to seek shelter with the promise that they would stay with the camp and watch belongings 24/7.