Oklahoma City's homeless population is on the decline. The annual point-in-time count was released Thursday, with 11% fewer people identifying themselves as homeless than last year, but there is actually an increase in people living on the streets.
Agencies like the Homeless Alliance are successfully finding housing for more veterans, families and unaccompanied youth, but people who would normally turn to overnight shelters for help are finding resources lacking. “Last night I stayed in an alley,” Stoney Mitchell tells News 9.
One-third of participants in this year's point-in-time count say they have no roof over their heads at night, the highest percentage since 2008. Homeless Alliance executive director Dan Straughan says that is partly because some shelters now want a commitment to overcome homelessness, which was not a requirement in the past. “If they’re not ready, willing and able to do that, they can still be in the shelter,” Straughan proposes. “We don’t really have that in Oklahoma City right now, and we need it.”
The largest local shelter, City Rescue Mission, just rebranded its facility to focus on recovery services. They responded to News 9 in a statement saying, “City Rescue Mission has plenty of open emergency shelter beds for those whose intention is to take responsibility to end their homelessness. We are here to provide a path back to hope. Often when individuals are given the opportunity to take responsibility and move past the road blocks that have kept them homeless they choose to do nothing. We believe in them and we believe that they can do better for themselves. We are here and would love the opportunity to serve each one of them.”
Some are not ready to take that next step, however. City senior planner Jarod Shadid agrees a no-strings-attached shelter is needed, but the problem is paying for it. “That looks like it’s probably going to be largely have to be privately funded, and we’ll need to have someone to operate it,” he says.
The Homeless Alliance did help a record 715 people find housing last year, though. Curbside Chronicle vendor Kyle Chandler got a house within the past month, and says, “There’s a lot of help here, and that’s a good thing. A lot of places don’t have the help that Oklahoma does.”
For the first time, dozens of local agencies are working together to address the individual or family's specific needs. Straughan says, “Right there, we can knit together the services that that family needs to get into housing, and stay there once they get in.”
Using this data, the city hopes to gain funding to build more low-income housing and that emergency shelter to reach more people in need. For a link to the full report, click here.