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Homelessness is down, while visibility may be up
The number of people experiencing homelessness in Oklahoma City is down this year according to the annual Point in Time Count. The number fell for the second straight year, down 22 percent since 2016, according to the report released by the City of Oklahoma City and the Homeless Alliance on Thursday.
According to the report, which is based on a one-day census that happens every January, 1,183 people were counted. Nationally, it is estimated that a community’s annual number of people who are experiencing homelessness is four to five times its one-night census, in this case 4,732 to 5,915 people who are experiencing homeless annually in Oklahoma City.
Other results found in the 2018 Point in Time Count of Oklahoma City’s homeless include:
- 10 percent of the population are veterans; veteran homelessness is down 18 percent from last year
- 21 percent are members of families with children; family homelessness is down 31 percent
- 31 percent are female, 69 percent are male
- 62 percent are white, 26 percent are black, seven percent are Native American
- 14 percent are youth age 24 or younger; 53 unaccompanied youth were counted that night
- 31 percent of the population reports mental illness
For the past several years, families with children have been the fastest growing segment of the homeless population in Oklahoma City. Advocates say they are glad to see a break in that trend with a 31 percent decrease in family homelessness from last year.
“Agencies throughout the community have made major strides at housing people and streamlining processes to end homelessness, among families with children, veterans and chronic populations,” said Dan Straughan, executive director of the Homeless Alliance. “Homelessness is a complex issue that can’t be solved by any single agency. We’ve worked really hard to bring together multiple nonprofits and government agencies to take a team approach to housing people, and it’s working.”
Spike in Unsheltered People
The Point in Time report also groups people into several categories including the number of people staying in overnight shelters, transitional housing and people who are unsheltered.
While homelessness is down overall, Oklahoma City experienced a 47 percent increase in the number of people who are unsheltered. On the night of the count, 394 unsheltered people were counted.
“Because people who are unsheltered are often the most visible, the community may have the perception that total homelessness is up when it really isn’t,” said Jerod Shadid with the community development division of the City of Oklahoma City’s Planning Department.
Advocates attribute the increase in the unsheltered population to lack of truly affordable housing options, access to mental healthcare and changes at several overnight shelters which have led to a lack of emergency shelter beds.
“When most people think about a homeless shelter, they think about a place where someone can check-in to stay the night,” said Shadid. “Several shelters in Oklahoma City have changed their model from providing emergency shelter into a program model that serves people who meet specific criteria and requires them to stay for a longer term. This reduction in emergency shelter beds has caused a shortage in the community.”
The lack of emergency overnight shelter beds is something the Homeless Alliance and City of Oklahoma City are looking at, but say there won’t be an easy or fast solution.
Currently the Westtown Day Shelter, operated by the Homeless Alliance, is the only low-barrier shelter in the community and serves many of the unsheltered people during the day. The Day Shelter served a record 6,063 unduplicated guests in 2017, and the Homeless Alliance says they are on track to break that record again this year.
“Some people who have pets that prevent them from staying at overnight shelters come to our Day Shelter to access our kennel,” said Straughan. “Some people who have serious mental illness or substance abuse issues find it difficult to access overnight shelters and come to our Day Shelter to take a shower, get a meal and access help. We try to provide the lowest barrier to entry in order to meet people where they are at in life and help them get off the street.”
Not a Complete Picture
The Point in Time Count is a one-day census required by the federal government, and although it provides a helpful snapshot of the situation, Shadid says it should not be considered an exclusive measuring tool.
“This is a very challenging population to count accurately. And while a lot of planning and research goes into making sure we get the most complete picture as possible, things like the weather on the day of the count and a change in counting strategies can impact the results.”
This survey did not attempt to count people who are considered “couch homeless,” people who are homeless but temporarily staying with a friend, relative or acquaintance. Nationally, those numbers are estimated to be 5-10 times the “countable” homeless population. The number of couch homeless in Oklahoma City is uncertain, but the Oklahoma City Public School district had 5,031 homeless children enrolled at the end of the 2017 school year, approximately 94 percent of whom were couch homeless.
For the full Point in Time report, visit www.CoalitionToEndPoverty.org.
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Jerod Shadid, City of Oklahoma City
Kinsey Crocker, The Homeless Alliance
Dan Straughan, The Homeless Alliance