By: Gary Fife/Radio Communications
Okmulgee, Oklahoma—With the recent blast of Arctic-type weather many Natives have been struggling to stay warm and find enough to eat. While there are several agencies that have been handing out these necessities, one Creek woman is trying to help bridge the gap between needs and resources to those Native people living on the streets of Tulsa.
Lana Harjochee has taken on the task of getting these supplies to people who exist on the streets. Her campaign “Raising Native Hope” has been around since 2017, getting food and clothing to those Native who might have been missed by the big, well-known organizations and importantly, assisting them in obtaining the paperwork necessary for federal, state and tribal program.
In an interview with Mvskoke Radio February 24, Harjochee describes her work.
“I help our Native brothers and sisters who are on the streets here in Tulsa, getting their CDIBs (Certificate of Indian Blood) or the State IDs’ or if they need some kind of paperwork for the tribe or find connections with relatives. Maybe they need some clothes or boots for work that will enable them to get a job. That’s basically what I do now.”
Exact counts of Natives living on the streets is not available, But Harjochee says she’s worked with dozens, many of them Creeks, but she does not have a specific number, “Since I started this, I’ve worked with 72 people, maybe 30, 35 are Mvskoke. I can’t really give you a ‘ballpark’ (number) because there’s so may different tribes that need so much.
Media images of homeless people usually include tent camps, tarps, cars and old grocery carts stacked alongside, stuffed with personal belongings. Many line along road rights-of-way or underneath concrete overpass bridges.
“We do see a lot of that. We do see a lot of people living in their cars that no longer work. We do have people who are living in abandoned housing.”
But even with some available type of shelter, some of those on the streets, Harjochee says, prefer to stay on those streets. They would rather face the hazards of street life to those found from residents inside the shelters.
“The majority of them that you see like that,” Harjochee said. “I see that you’ve got two types of homeless. You’ve got some that are living with friends but, the situation that they find; they’re out of jurisdiction and they can’t get the help.“
“Yes, there are a lot of our Natives that live under bridges,” Harjochee said. “There are a lot of them that live in the park.”
“The majority of them that do live like that don’t want to go to the shelters.”
Sometimes there is a reason they prefer to avoid the shelters.
“There’s too much roughhousing, too much drugs,” Harjochee said. “There’s a lot of alcoholism.”
“They don’t want to go to these places. Or they’ve been kicked out, no longer able to come back.”
The Covid-19 pandemic has also had its effects on Tulsa’s homeless Native population Harjochee adds. Some, she said, felt the combined effects of the health crisis. “Some of them have lost jobs because of the Covid that happened over the last year.”
“With that, they lost their work and their housing.”
There are still even more reasons one of the clients may have ended up in their unfortunate situation. The challenge of navigating the mazes of federal, state and tribal paperwork has had the effect of halting or keeping the homeless from receiving support.
Raising Native Hope isn’t just a charity organization, providing clothes or other necessities Harjochee says. They try to lift spirits.
“We’re not just giving out things, we’re trying to lift them up to better area,” Harjochee said. “Some of them have fines that they have to pay off.”
“Some of them are just coming out of prison or jail and they have just been left out there with no direction to go.”
The work of Raising Native Hope is almost a one-person job and from Harjochees pocketbook. The little group does not receive any governmental or foundation grants. Harjochee is searching for a person or organization that could write proposals or applications for them.
Their donations are from individuals and they get support from the Tulsa Creek Indian Center. The center maintains a box that collects the clothing, cash and canned goods to be donated. Sites on the PayPal app and Facebook help with online donations.
Raising Native Hope could use all the donations it can get, according to Harjochee. Those willing to donate can do so at Paypal.need.nativehomeless or by calling 918-527-3834.