The number of people facing serious financial challenges continues to rise in Cherokee County.
A report released recently by the Annie E. Casey Foundation indicated that the number of children living in poverty in the state increased by nine percent from 2005-2010.
A year ago, Cherokee County held the third highest poverty rate in Oklahoma, according to the numbers produced by the American Community Survey. Only Latimer, Marshall and Roger Mills counties had higher poverty rates. According to current U.S. Census Bureau statistics for people living below the designated poverty level, Cherokee County has a 26.3 poverty rate, while Latimer, Marshall and Roger Mills counties each had percentage rates under 15 percent.
Adair County’s poverty rate is at 26.5 percent, while Delaware County is at 21.2 percent. The only other neighboring county with a 20-plus percentage poverty rate is Sequoyah County, at 20.9 percent.
“The phone pretty much rings off the wall all day long with people who are needing utility assistance, help with rental payments, food, gasoline to be able to make doctor appointments and for other various reasons,” said Hope House Executive Director Laura Garner. “We’ve been busy, and unfortunately the need is higher than the funds available.”
Area shelters like Hope House, which provides services for families or women with children, and Project O-Si-Yo, which offers living assistance to men, stay at full capacity due to the many people experiencing effects from a bad economy or other circumstances.
“We’ve had about 450 people come through here in the five years that we’ve been here,” said Project O-Si-Yo co-manager Dave Stickels. “That comes out to about 90 people a year. That’s a lot of people. Some stay a couple of days. Some stay a couple of months. Some are here longer. We’ve got somebody who’s been here over a year. The individuals vary.”
Garner said another recent development is people are coming into the county from other areas of Oklahoma or even outside the state.
“We’ve been getting a lot more calls in past weeks from outside the county, because we’re the capital of the Cherokee Nation,” she said. “We get calls from people out of the state. They think that when they walk into the Cherokee Nation that everything is going to fall directly into place. It does take a long time. They will have depleted their resources, and then will be faced with a need for a place to stay or food. We’re also getting calls from Tulsa, because the shelters are full up there, and they’re referring them here. That’s something that’s has come up a little bit more over the last month or so. All the way around, the numbers are rising.”
The area shelters are not meant to be a source of permanent support for those who seek services. Helping each person who walks in the door reconnect with society to re-establish self-sufficiency is the goal, said Stickels.
“You’re suppose to go out and look [for a job] everyday,” he said. “I’ve been here since October. I started out just like everybody else. I got here because my wife and I had problems. I was without work, and I don’t have family around here. I needed a place to go, so I came here. So now I’ve taken on some responsibilities to help run this place.”
Garner and Stickels both pointed out their respective sites are always in need of monetary and other forms of support to help sustain services.
“It’s a non-stop need,” said Garner. “Unfortunately, we’ve had people lined up waiting for applications for utility and rental assistance. There’s been a quite an increase this year. It’s like an [annual] thing until we get a turn around in the economy, but it’s not going to happen soon. [The recession] has really hit here in the last couple of years.”
Stickels said Project O-Si-Yo was able to raise $2,000 recently through a pancake brunch and $400 was earned through two yard sales, but more funding is needed.
“Things are hairy now,” he said. “We’re trying to get the community behind us. We do have a lot of individuals who come by and donate clothes or food. We had Channel 8 news come in, and they did a story on us that broadcasted [the night of July 20]. It was the lead story and we got no response. We told people that we needed help here, that we’re in desperate need and that we’re probably going to end up closing by the end of July. We got very little response. Two people made monetary donations. We brought in some more clothes, but we only had two people respond in a monetary way.”
Stickels emphasized that the site managers or Project O-Si-Yo Director of Operations Tom Lewis do not draw salaries for duties performed in operating and managing the shelter.
“We’re trying to get the community behind us,” said Stickels. “We don’t get monetary incentives. We don’t get anything out of it. Tom Lewis, the CEO, he donates his time. Everybody here has a chore. Everybody helps out, like with the community garden. We donated stuff to Help-in-Crisis, the CARE Food Pantry and Hope House. We’ve tried to give back.”
The number of people facing serious financial challenges continues to rise in Cherokee County.
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Sherman Alexie Jr., self-professed “res” American Indian, dislikes casinos, mascots and Oklahoma for stealing his favorite basketball team.
Northeastern State University welcomed the celebrated poet, writer and filmmaker to campus Wednesday, and the audience was treated to 90 minutes of witty and unblinking observation from the perspective of an American Indian all-too-familiar with life on a reservation.
Alexie, named one of the 21st Century’s top 20 writers by The New Yorker, delivered what was essentially a standup monologue to a packed house in the auditorium of the W. Roger Webb Educational Technology Center. Some of Alexie’s best-known works are “The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven,” a book of short stories, and the film “Smoke Signals.”
Woman serving time for burning baby seeks judicial review
A Cherokee County mother sentenced to 17 years in prison for burning her 14-month-old baby with an iron is asking for a judicial review.
Court records show Jodi Leann Rock, 21, requested a copy of her judgment and sentence, and this week filed an application for a judicial review. Copies of her request have been submitted to a judge and the District Attorney’s Office.
Concerns expressed as SB 573 awaits House vote
With an Oklahoma Senate bill now awaiting a vote on the floor of the House of Representatives, some parents are voicing concerns about the futures of rural K-8 schools in Cherokee County.
Senate Bill 573 calls for a commission to establish charter schools throughout the state. A charter school receives taxpayer funding, but functions independently. They can be founded by an array of interests, including teachers, parents, universities and nonprofits. In Oklahoma, tribal entities can establish charter schools.
Man gets suspended sentence for possession
A 37-year-old Webbers Falls man has been given a suspended sentence on drug-possession charges.
Dusty Kayl Skaggs was charged with endeavoring to manufacture methamphetamine earlier this year after he and 43-year-old Misty Hayes Paden, of Muskogee, were arrested during execution of a search warrant.
NSU students observe Earth Day
Students and members of the community converged on Northeastern State University’s Second Century Square on Tuesday to spend an afternoon celebrating Earth Day.
The event featured tables sponsored by campus organizations, prizes and music by Chris Espinoza. NSU’s Earth Day theme was “Gather Here. Go Green,” and was organized by the Committee for Sustainability and the Northeastern Student Government Association (NSGA).
Rural smallholders host annual show
More and more, many people are showing growing interest in learning the sources of their food, including meat. As such, interest in farm-to-table living is increasing.
Saturday, the Rural Smallholders Association held its annual spring show at the Cherokee County Fairgrounds, promoting the farming of sheep and goats, along with giving the general public a sample of their products.
Wanted man nabbed during traffic stop
Cherokee County sheriff’s deputies arrested a wanted man this week after a traffic stop near South Muskogee and Willis Road.
Hurley D. Pitts, 40, was being sought by authorities on a motion to revoke a previous sentence.
Sheriff’s Deputy Jarrick Snyder said he stopped a car after it ran off the road a couple of times. A woman was behind the wheel, and Pitts was sitting in the passenger seat.
Communiversity Band performs Sunday
Musicians from on and off the Northeastern State University campus have made their final preparations for an upcoming performance of the NSU Communiversity Band.
The ensemble performs Sunday, April 27, at 7 p.m., in the NSU Center for the Performing Arts. The conductor is Dr. Norman Wika, associate professor of music and band program director. Guest conductor is student Kameron Parmain. Admission is $5 for adults and $3 for students and seniors.
“Everything has come together very well this semester,” Wika said.
“We have about 40 musicians, and everyone who started the rehearsals has stuck with it. This could be the best Community Band concert yet.”
Council concerned over reports of land contamination
Negotiations involving the purchase of nearly 20 homes on 7 acres of land near Basin Avenue hit a snag Monday night when concerns surfaced over potential contamination of the area.
Tahlequah Mayor Jason Nichols had proposed the city purchase the homes and duplexes as a large step in a greenbelt project, which would establish a solid park and trail system from the downtown area to the site of the city’s old solid waste transfer station.
Until Monday, details of the negotiations had been mostly discussed behind closed doors, though Nichols confirmed the list price for the property to be $480,000.
Council tables cell tower permit apps
Tahlequah city councilors on Monday opted to hold off on approval of two special-use permit applications that would help AT&T install a couple of 150-foot cell towers within the city.
Branch Communications is asking for the permits as it attempts to construct two monopole cell towers – one on Commercial Road near Green Country Funeral Home, and another at the Tahlequah Public Schools bus barn on Pendleton Street. Other towers are being built outside of the city limits.
Members of the city’s planning and zoning board gave their OK for both permits last month.
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