By Darla Shelden
City Sentinel Reporter
OKLAHOMA CITY, OK– The number of people who were experiencing homelessness in Oklahoma City on the night of its annual count was 1,273, an increase of 90, according to the Point in Time report released by the City of Oklahoma City and Homeless Alliance on Tuesday (June 4).
The report is based on a one-day census that happens every January, While the number is up about eight percent, organizers attribute the increase to the count occurring on a cold night when emergency overflow beds were open, making it easier to count some people who are typically unsheltered and harder to find.
Communities that receive funding from the Department of Housing and Urban Development are required to conduct the survey at least once every two years, although Oklahoma City’s survey is annual. Jerod Shadid who serves as the homeless services program planner for the City Planning Department, says that although it provides a helpful snapshot of the situation, 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 possible, things like the weather on the day of the count and a change in counting strategies can impact the results.”
The count also found:
• 10 percent of the population are veterans; consistent with last year’s count
• 16 percent are members of families with children; down for the second straight year
• 30 percent are female, 69 percent are male, 1 percent is transgender or nonconforming
• 58 percent are white, 27 percent are black, eight percent are Native American
• 15 percent are youth age 24 or younger
• 31 percent of the population reports mental illness
• 22 percent are considered “chronically” homeless, of whom 72 percent are unsheltered
• 58 percent were staying in a shelter, 12 in transitional housing, 30 percent unsheltered
In addition, this year’s survey included questions targeting the 30 percent of people who are unsheltered. The survey found that 17 percent report being involved in foster care as youth and 76 percent report being justice involved, staying one or more nights in jail, prison or juvenile detention.
While these numbers provide good data to track trends over long periods of time, the community has a tool that tracks service utilization and numbers on a daily basis, according to Dan Straughan, executive director of the Homeless Alliance.
“Twelve years ago, we developed a Homeless Management Information System which is a shared database used by homeless serving organizations in central Oklahoma,” said Straughan. “Through the years, we have made improvements to the system, added more services organizations and are now on a program that is used throughout the state.”
According to the Homeless Management Information System, 11,278 people received homeless services in Oklahoma City in 2018.
In addition to using a shared database, many of the larger agencies throughout Oklahoma City have shifted towards using the same in-take form, a common assessment tool to measure people’s vulnerability and a collaborative approach to housing people.
“The good news is our community is getting better at housing people,” Straughan added. “Thanks to years of collaboration, local organizations are doing a better job of coordinating services. It makes it easier to track resources as they become available and allows the agencies to pool their resources to house clients faster.”
However, services to prevent people from becoming homeless in the first place are largely beyond what local service groups can provide, and significant increases in local housing costs over the last decade have added pressure for people with financial difficulties, said S
The local median rent grew at a faster rate than almost every non-coastal American city, outpacing income growth, according to the Oklahoma City Housing Authority’s most recent affordable housing strategy report.
“Unfortunately, homelessness isn’t really going to get any better until the community works to develop more affordable housing and invests more in mental health and substance use treatment,” said Straughan. “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 we just need to invest more.”
The press release stated that this survey did not attempt to count people who are staying in hotels, treatment facilities, emergency rooms, jails or people who are considered “couch homeless,” people who are homeless but temporarily staying with a friend, relative or acquaintance. Nationally, couch homeless numbers are estimated to be 5-10 times the “countable” homeless population.
The number of couch homeless in Oklahoma City is uncertain, the release noted, but Oklahoma City Public School district had 3,445 homeless children enrolled at the end of the 2018 school year, the majority of whom were couch homeless.