Community , ON Services

Congress hears updates on housing, elder services impacted by COVID-19

During the 2020 Tzi-Zho Session, the Seventh Osage Nation Congress heard various government department updates and changes on services due to the COVID-19 pandemic, including housing and elder services.

Those updates and discussions took place in the Congressional Health and Social Service Committee meetings held in September during the regular fall session as the Congress considered and passed the 2021 fiscal year government budgets. Despite the pandemic, the Congressional session and committee meetings were held virtually with several Congress members and Executive Branch staff participating remotely by electronic means as part of physical and social distancing precautions. 

In discussing the Housing Department’s accomplishments and plans, Director James Weigant said the southern fencing at the senior housing complex was dilapidated when he started the director post and this year, the fencing was replaced with black chain-link fencing, which helps ON police officers see into the backyards while on patrol duty. For the upcoming holidays, Weigant said the department plans to make food gift baskets for the senior residents at Thanksgiving and Christmastime.

In addition to the CARES Act funding, Weigant noted the department also received COVID-19-related funding separately from HUD. He said the funding was used to rehabilitate an unoccupied housing unit that was empty for four years. Weigant noted the CARES Act funding will continue to be used for the rental and mortgage payment forgiveness plan through December.

Weigant also briefed the committee on plans to add additional senior housing complex units in Pawhuska, which would comprise five duplexes containing 10 new housing units. Weigant said with architectural planning in the works, he hoped to break ground on the project in summer 2021.

As part of the senior housing expansion, Weigant also announced an additional street and cul-de-sac to be built will be named “Freeman Drive” in honor of late Housing Department Director Raymond Joseph “Joe” Freeman who passed away in July 2019.

“I’m excited for FY 2021 with a greater senior housing budget and housing budget as a whole,” Weigant said. “We’ve implemented a lot of policies and procedures that I feel like are streamlining and getting services out to more people and faster. It’s been a challenging year for FY 2020, we’ve had some turnover and obviously with COVID, Housing was open through the shutdown, we’re finally starting to get back to a little normalcy and I’m happy to be here.”

Congresswoman Alice Goodfox said she was happy to hear about a street named after Freeman. “He was a huge part of this program for a very long time … he was my mom’s little brother, and he was very passionate about this program. As his niece, I’m really excited to hear about that.”

Weigant said he had informed the Freeman family about the street name plans, adding: “Joe gave 20 years of his life to the Housing Department and this is the least that we can do to show our appreciation.”

Congresswoman Brandy Lemon, chair of the Health and Social Services Committee, commended Weigant for his work and data information provided on the housing and senior housing plans. “I feel it’s important for our people to know that if you intend to or at some point you would like to be in senior housing that you really need to get on the wait list so they can continue to do surveys and prioritize the next possibilities of a senior housing division.

In related senior service updates, the Nation’s Elder Nutrition Department (Title VI) is no longer offering its weekday dine-in lunches at its Pawhuska and Fairfax locations due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead, the department is offering carry-out lunch meals and delivery service to homebound elders available at the usual suggested prices.

Sue Slinkard, Elder Nutrition Department director, said people can either drive up or come to the lobby to pick up lunches during the week. “That has worked really well, of course (the elders and regulars) are missing not being able to come in and visit with friends and relatives and have their social time and I understand that because we miss seeing them ourselves,” she said.

“We’ve learned a lot and I’m sure there’s still a lot to be learned,” Slinkard said. “When and if we reopen the congregate meals, we’re looking at doing things differently in our dining rooms just for the benefit of the health of our elders.”

Funding for the Elder Nutrition Department comes from a three-year grant award from the federal Administration on Aging. Slinkard said she participated in teleconference calls regarding grant money use during the pandemic and was told the department could buy shelf-ready meals for homebound elders, as well as cleaning and hygiene supplies, “which we did and our elders were just thrilled to death to get toilet paper that seemed to be a big issue at the time, we bought disinfectant cleaning spray for them to use on their counters and bathroom areas, we sent out paper towels and individual cans of fruits and vegetables.”

“This is a day-by-day thing, and we understand that and we’re doing the best job that we can at this time,” Slinkard said of living with the COVID-19 pandemic.

For meal costs, Slinkard said one lunch meal has a suggested $2 cost for elders over age 55. For all people under age 55, a lunch meal donation cost is $6 with the collected money also going toward purchasing groceries for the meals.

For more information on the Nation’s Elder Nutrition Department and meal service, the Pawhuska site is located at 350 Senior Drive and can be reached at (918) 287-5454. The Fairfax site is at 401 S. 8th St. and can be reached at (918) 287-5248.

For more information on the Nation’s Housing Department, call (918) 287-5310 or the toll-free number at 1-800-490-8771. The Housing Department office is located in the Nation’s Welcome Center in Pawhuska.