- Associated Press - Friday, February 13, 2015

TULSA, Okla. (AP) - The first meeting has been held to discuss the closing of a foster care emergency shelter in Tulsa.

The Tulsa World (https://bit.ly/1Aw87YC ) reports that the Oklahoma Department of Human Services Director Ed Lake held a meeting Thursday. Officials are deciding what will be done with the Laura Dester Shelter in Tulsa and its branch in Oklahoma City after they close.

Lake says the nonprofit Child Protection Coalition will form a committee to meet with Human Services officials to decide how the shelters should be repurposed. The Child Protection Coalition is a nonprofit that operates under the Tulsa Community Council, and has 21 members representing child advocacy organizations.

Lake says Oklahoma is using shelters disproportionately compared to other states, and that prolonged shelter stays have an especially adverse impact on children. The current average stay at the shelters is 44 days.

“Oklahoma has been on the wrong side of shelter use,” Lake said. “We have been using shelter care out of proportion to other states and to other services we provide.”

The $12.4 million shelter opened in December 2010 using state and federal funds, and private donations. This year’s budget for operating the Tulsa shelter is $7.1 million and $4.65 million for the one in Oklahoma City.

Lake says the closure will happen gradually over the next six to nine months. Oklahoma City staff has submitted recommendations about how to deal with the transition.

Tulsa Police Chief Chuck Jordan said there is still some need for shelters. He said that officers and social workers need somewhere to place children who are clearly in danger when they receive emergency calls in the middle of the night.

“I don’t want my officers to question for one second whether to take a child out of that environment,” Jordan said.

Lake said it’s possible to have a limited use shelter in place for emergencies.

“The last thing we want is for staff to be driving around or sitting in an office with a child,” Lake said. “There may need to be safety measures here but not to the extent we have now.”

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Information from: Tulsa World, https://www.tulsaworld.com

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