Oklahoma City shelters opened for several overnights this week as a winter storm hit the state.
Because of the pandemic, shelters across the city removed about 300 of 900 overnight beds to allow for social distancing, according to Dan Straughan, the director of OKC’s Homeless Alliance.
“We lost a third of our beds over the course of a month, in March,” Straughan said.
To make up for lost space, the organization opened up their Day Shelter for overnights for the first time this year in the building’s 9-year history. The Day Shelter was first used as an overnight shelter during the October ice storm.
The constrained space has added to the number of unsheltered homeless people in the city, Straughan said, and there’s a concern many more could be in need of shelter as early as next month.
A federal moratorium, a temporary suspension of some evictions, is set to expire on Dec. 31. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued the moratorium in September to slow the spread of COVID-19.
Because the moratorium was not tied to specific rental assistance payments, there are thousands of Oklahomans that could potentially face eviction on Jan. 1, according to Michael Figgins, the Executive Director of Legal Aid Services of Oklahoma.
“You're looking at a terrible doomsday scenario of no job, no unemployment, and no protections to keep people from getting evicted,” he said.
Figgins estimated more than 90,000 households in Oklahoma could be at risk of eviction, citing Stout, an analysis firm.
“There’s going to be significant costs, not just to those impacted, but our entire community because they’re going to need shelter. Where are they going to go? We’re not prepared for that,” Figgins said.
Straughan said he fears a potential spike of evictions in January could exacerbate their resources even further.
“It could be literally catastrophic,” he said. “It’s unimaginable.”