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Oklahoma City sees dip in homelessness, but increase in homeless families

A year after the city's homeless population ticked up sharply, advocates say fewer people are living on Oklahoma City streets, according to numbers released Thursday.

But the news isn't all good. Despite success in reducing the number of homeless people overall, advocates are facing challenges in finding housing for certain segments of the homeless population, including families with children.

The city's annual Point-in-Time report showed a 10 percent drop in the number of homeless people living in Oklahoma City. Those numbers are based on an annual tally of the number of homeless people living in shelters, transitional housing, outdoors and elsewhere on a single day every year.

This year, volunteers counted 1,368 homeless people in the city on Jan. 26, down from 1,511 during last year's count. Advocates estimate the city's homeless population for the entire year is between four and five times the number tallied in the single-day count. That estimate would place the total population somewhere between 5,472 and 6,840 for the year.

That improvement comes a year after the city saw a spike in its homeless population. Last year's report showed a 16 percent increase in the number of homeless people recorded in the count, including a 25 percent increase in the number of homeless veterans and a 34 percent increase in chronically homeless.

Although they're encouraged by this year's results, advocates caution that homeless people are notoriously difficult to count accurately. So while the 10 percent drop recorded in the report likely represents a genuine downward trend, the actual figure is harder to pin down.

"This is not a complete count," said Jerod Shadid, an associate planner for the city of Oklahoma City's planning department. "It's not scientific. It's a one-night count."

This year's report showed declines in the number of homeless veterans and chronically homeless people in the city. The number of homeless veterans dipped from 157 in last year's count to 147 in this year's count, and the number of chronically homeless people fell from 286 last year to 264 this year.

The number of unsheltered homeless people also fell from 307 in last year's count to 268 this year.

Shadid said those improvements show that the city's efforts to house homeless veterans and chronically homeless people are paying off. In 2013, the city joined the national 100,000 Homes campaign, known locally as Journey Home OKC.

The campaign seeks to house medically vulnerable, chronically homeless people and homeless veterans. Since then, advocates from the city, the nonprofit Homeless Alliance and other agencies and organizations have found housing for hundreds of people in those categories.

Despite the overall drop in the homeless population, the number of homeless families recorded in the count increased by 28 percent, climbing from 92 in last year's report to 118 in this year's report.

The reason for the difference in outcomes among the various groups has to do with the different factors that drive people into homelessness, said Dan Straughan, executive director of the Homeless Alliance.

While the main factors for homeless veterans and chronically homeless people are generally substance abuse and mental health problems, families are more likely to find themselves homeless due to a lack of affordable housing, Straughan said.

"Family homelessness is really sensitive to the cost of rent, and rent is going up really fast in Oklahoma City," he said.

Compounding that trend is a lack of available resources to house homeless families. Typically, advocates rely heavily on Housing Choice vouchers, more commonly known as Section 8, to house homeless families.

But that funding has been in short supply after both the Oklahoma Housing Finance Agency and the Oklahoma City Housing Authority stopped accepting applications for the vouchers. Both agencies said waiting lists for the vouchers had ballooned to unmanageable levels.

Since then, the city housing authority has resumed issuing vouchers, albeit at a slower pace than it had. The state housing agency's application freeze is still in place.

Other funding sources the city uses to house homeless families, including the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's Emergency Solutions grant program, have remained flat over the last several years. All the while, the cost of rent in Oklahoma City has risen, meaning the grant dollars the city receives don't go as far.

If those trends continue, Straughan said, it could hamper the city's progress in housing homeless people — particularly families with children.

"At this point, it's not a question of we don't know what causes homelessness or how to fix it," Straughan said. "We do know. We just need the resources."

Related Photos
Lamar Davis, who sells "The Curbside", is one of the clients receiving lunch at the Homeless Alliance's Day Shelter in Oklahoma City, Okla. Wednesday, June 21, 2017.  Photo by Paul Hellstern, The Oklahoman

Lamar Davis, who sells "The Curbside", is one of the clients receiving lunch at the Homeless Alliance's Day Shelter in Oklahoma City, Okla. Wednesday, June 21, 2017. Photo by Paul Hellstern, The Oklahoman

<figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-c5a4dd2615afdc8b4bede9b0d8c782e6.jpg" alt="Photo - Lamar Davis, who sells "The Curbside", is one of the clients receiving lunch at the Homeless Alliance's Day Shelter in Oklahoma City, Okla. Wednesday, June 21, 2017. Photo by Paul Hellstern, The Oklahoman" title="Lamar Davis, who sells "The Curbside", is one of the clients receiving lunch at the Homeless Alliance's Day Shelter in Oklahoma City, Okla. Wednesday, June 21, 2017. Photo by Paul Hellstern, The Oklahoman"><figcaption>Lamar Davis, who sells "The Curbside", is one of the clients receiving lunch at the Homeless Alliance's Day Shelter in Oklahoma City, Okla. Wednesday, June 21, 2017. Photo by Paul Hellstern, The Oklahoman</figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-3caabd1ea50b6f6615228fbe1cc933eb.jpg" alt="Photo - " title=""><figcaption></figcaption></figure>
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 ›

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