By Darla Shelden, City Sentinel Senior Reporter
OKLAHOMA CIRY – Each year, the Annual Sooner Stand Down is held by the Homeless Alliance to bring resources directly to Oklahoma homeless Veterans. For 2021, the Homeless Alliance Day Shelter in downtown Oklahoma City is open for low-income and homeless Veterans only and they are provided with resources and VA benefits.
During the month of September, the Homeless Alliance and the Oklahoma City VA Health Care System are providing the much needed resources to place 20 homeless Veterans directly into housing with essentials needed for their new home.
The Homeless Alliance owns and operates the Westtown Homeless Resource Campus which includes a Day Shelter that serves breakfast and lunch, provides showers, offers access to computers, phone, and mail, and provides access to needed services including mental and physical healthcare, budgeting assistance, legal support, and multiple classes and programs.
For those people who can’t go to an overnight shelter because they have a companion animal from which they will not be parted, the Day Shelter removes that barrier by offering a kennel, complete with pet food and access to veterinary services, so that people with pets aren’t shut out of the system of care.
Due to the COVID pandemic, the Sooner Stand Down was cancelled for a second year in a row, but the Oklahoma City VA Health Care System and the Homeless Alliance are getting creative with helping homeless Veterans.
Volunteers and VA staff recently stuffed ruck sacks with sleeping bags, sleep mats, hygiene kits, socks, t-shirts, blankets – donated by the Red Cross – and a set of playing cards for distribution to homeless Veterans.
“We are packing up ruck sacks to give to Veterans during outreach activities that would have normally received them at the Sooner Stand Down,” said Christine Cleary, Oklahoma City VA Health Care System’s Homeless Veteran Social Worker.
“We do street outreach and shelter outreach several times a week in areas all over the state,” said Cleary. “We visit with homeless veterans, talk to them about VA services, and hopefully encourage them to come and receive care from the VA.”
Cleary and staff will distribute the ruck sacks during their weekly outreach activities.
The Oklahoma City VA homeless program staff outreach program helps to inform Veterans of their benefits and services they earned through their military service. The goal is getting homeless Veterans off the streets and into housing.
The Homeless Alliance along with the VA is working to make this happen.
“Since Sooner Stand Down was canceled this year, we’ve decided to make a big push to house additional veterans this month,” said Meghan Mueller, Associate Executive Director of Homeless Alliance. “We set a goal to house 20 Veterans during the month of September and will work to house more.”
By collaborating with different housing providers, their ultimate goal is to connect Veterans to housing resources and provide them with essential items they need to feel at home wherever they end up.
“We’ve collected all kinds of great items for welcome home baskets,” said Mueller. “From small appliances to bedsheets, anything that veterans will need to really start their new lives in housing.
“We’re really excited to offer a Veteran a new place to call home, but to also make the place feel like home,” Mueller added.
The Homeless Alliance, through a sponsorship from Boeing and the Edmond Elks Lodge, was able to purchase many of these household items for the welcome home baskets.
“The process for getting a Veteran into housing varies depending on their situation,” said Mueller. “We work closely with the Department of Housing and Urban Development-VA Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) team,” said Mueller. “They access housing choice vouchers that are specifically for VA eligible veterans.”
Clearly added, “We have amazing community partners that have all come together. During the pandemic, people never stopped working to help our homeless Veterans.
“People are still housing veterans, doing outreach, visiting shelters, under bridges and on the street, and we are still assisting people every day,’ she said.
Anyone interested in donating pop-top canned food, clothing, blankets or other items to the Oklahoma City VA Homeless Program can contact Christine Cleary at 405-456-1710 or [email protected].
For monetary donations, contact Melissa Overfield at 405-456-5162 or [email protected].
Visit homelessalliance.org for more information on donating, supply needs, and volunteering at the Homeless Alliance or email [email protected].