‘They're Our Neighbors’: Mental Health Advocates Help Oklahoma City’s Homeless Find Shelter During Winter Storm

Friday, February 19th 2021, 11:00 pm
By: Barry Mangold


Shelah Farley and Stephanie Newman with the Mental Health Association of Oklahoma made their regular stop at a camp in downtown Oklahoma City on Friday, but this stop was unique. 

Instead of asking if anyone needed a ride to a nearby shelter or hotel, they passed out food, clothing and other supplies. 

“We go out to encampments, under bridges. Wherever unsheltered folks are, that’s where we are,” said Farley, the program coordinator for the association’s street outreach and rapid response team. 

“We want to make sure they have dry sleeping bags, dry clothing, socks, things like that so they can continue to stay warm.” 

Farley, Newman and others have worked extra this week to help as many of Oklahoma City’s homeless find temporary shelter while snow fell throughout the state. 

The MHAOK and several other organizations were inundated with people looking for refuge from the abnormal and dangerous weather. 

More than 400 different people stayed at the Willard Winter Shelter, which is a temporary shelter operated by the Homeless Alliance, MHAOK and the Oklahoma City government. It will become vacant again at the end of March. 

Several organizations booked more than 100 hotel rooms for individuals and families, as well. 

“Just looking at the numbers of the people that came to shelter, the number that were able to get into hotels, that tells me we were successful,” Farley said. 

Farley said the Willard shelter, which had a maximum capacity of 245, made a significant difference in their ability to house people during the storm. “Shelter with no barriers is really what we need in our city, we’ve done that with the Willard center. But it’s not enough, it’s never enough.” 

One weather fatality was confirmed. Oklahoma City officials said a man in his 50’s was found near May and Reno, presumed to have succumbed to the cold.