The city of Tahlequah hosted a community meeting Tuesday evening to focus on homelessness - a complex problem that has purportedly worsened over time and is impacting the area.

"We as a community, in our conversations, need to develop a picture, determine what resources we have, see what we don't have and figure out if there's a way to get that in place," said Mayor Sue Catron.

Those in attendance included concerned business owners, service providers, residents, neighbors, and some of the homeless themselves.

Chief of Police Nate King admitted this is a mounting obstacle his officers are facing, and he spoke of plans the department has for moving forward.

"We have assigned one of our school resource officers, who is off during the summer, to be a homeless liaison officer," King said.

The officer will essentially serve as a "taxi cab" for those needing help, whether that is to get to Cherokee Nation Career Services or the Muskogee Veterans Administration, where they can connect with the resources they need.

"He is also going to be doing some enforcement for those people who don't want help, who are refusing the help, and who are being a nuisance at times and breaking the law. He will be enforcing the law," King said.

While this particular officer is only available for the summer, King said he hopes with the information that is gathered, the department can implement a plan so more than just one officer is helping.

The police chief stressed that he knew the people of Tahlequah were at the meeting to voice their concerns, and turned the floor over to them.

Tahlequah resident and business owner Brandi Donatelli shared her experiences and what she witnesses every day. The issues are becoming financially burdensome, she said, as she has been forced to make changes to fit circumstances forced upon her personally and professionally.

"I have to revamp my business because of human waste that we have had to clean. I've dealt with needles and I've also dealt with children," said Donatelli.

She said the children are among the aspects the public does not see. They come into her shop to ask where their parents are, or tell her their parents are passed out in the park.

A popular suggestion at the meeting was using resources for those who are homeless to create a progressive start.

King reminded the audience that the city is a "resource heavy" town, which is why homeless people tend to migrate into Tahlequah.

"We have health care, food. Not a lot of towns feed seven days a week," King said. "We have a lot of people who are doing a lot of things for people in need."

Tribal HUD/VASH (Department of Housing and Urban Development's Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing program) case manager Lisa Look said she would not turn away anyone who needed the help, including non-veterans.

"I deal with homelessness, substance abuse and mental health issues. You're a small town with big-city problems, and you have a chief of police who sounds like he has his head screwed on straight," said Look.

King said that if people look around, they'll see the residents can do a great deal to help not just the epidemic, but also one another.

"This is something we need to come together as a community and grasp," King said. "We need to make that network a little more efficient as far as communication between those programs, and that is something I said we can help do."

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