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Oklahoma City-area advocates provide services to homeless veterans

Ashley Amrine gives Quincy Wafer a haircut Friday during the Sooner Stand Down at the Homeless Alliance. [Photo By Steve Gooch, The Oklahoman]

Ashley Amrine gives Quincy Wafer a haircut Friday during the Sooner Stand Down at the Homeless Alliance. [Photo By Steve Gooch, The Oklahoman]

For about an hour after he signed paperwork for his new apartment Friday morning, through a steady stream of hugs, high-fives and handshakes from case managers, advocates and friends, Richard Hicks didn't stop smiling once.

Hicks, 49, has been homeless on and off for about 15 years, a victim of what he calls his own "wrong decisions." But Friday morning, Hicks said he took a big step toward getting his life back on track.

A U.S. Army veteran, Hicks credited a number of people, including the staff at the City Rescue Mission, for believing in him and wanting to see him do well.

"That changed my whole world," he said.

Hicks was one of several homeless veterans who were placed into housing Friday at the annual Sooner Stand Down outreach event in Oklahoma City, and one of hundreds who received a range of services.

Sooner Stand Down is a collaborative effort among several faith-based groups, nonprofits and public agencies, including the Homeless Alliance, the Oklahoma City VA Health Care System and the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma. Advocates offer legal assistance, medical screenings and other services to homeless veterans, and case managers work to place homeless veterans into housing.

Last year, advocates placed 24 veterans into housing in a 48-hour period. This year, in part because of a lack of availability of federal Section 8 housing vouchers, the agencies set their sights lower, setting a goal of housing between three and seven homeless people, said Matt Fox, a VA homeless program coordinator.

Most of the agencies involved in Friday's event are a part of Journey Home OKC, an initiative that seeks to end chronic homelessness and homelessness among veterans citywide.

Advocates had hoped to reach the so-called functional zero mark among homeless veterans by the end of last year. "Functional zero" means that support systems are in place to house any veteran who falls into homelessness within 30 days.

Despite housing hundreds last year, the campaign missed that goal. During the city's annual Point in Time census earlier this year, volunteers counted 157 homeless veterans on a single day. The Homeless Alliance estimates that figure climbs to about 500 people over the year.

Fox said advocates now expect that effort to stretch into 2017. To meet that goal, the group will need to find more landlords who are willing to accept homeless veterans as tenants. If more rental properties become available, Fox said he thinks the goal is within reach.

Dan Straughan, executive director of the Homeless Alliance, said Friday's event was an opportunity for advocates to find ways of moving people into housing without vouchers.

Silas Allen

Silas Allen is a news reporter for The Oklahoman. He is a Missouri native and a 2008 graduate of the University of Missouri. Read more ›