Oklahoma sees uptick in homelessness, particularly among families
For a second consecutive year, homelessness crept up across Oklahoma, driven in large part by a sharp increase in homeless families with children, according to a new report from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
But the news wasn't all bad. While the state's homeless population may have grown from 2016 to 2017, it's still smaller than it was in 2010, according to the report. The report also suggests Oklahoma made gains over the past year in its efforts to house homeless veterans and chronically homeless people.
Statewide, advocates tallied 4,199 homeless people on a single night in January, according to the department's 2017 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress, which was released Thursday. That increase includes a 23.9 percent increase over the past year in homeless families with children.
Those figures mirror trends in Oklahoma City, where advocates counted 118 homeless families with children during the city's annual homeless census in January. That total represented a 28 percent increase over the previous year's total of 92.
Dan Straughan, executive director of the nonprofit Homeless Alliance, said that trend is driven by a lack of affordable housing combined with insufficient federal funds. Since 2012, the HUD funding the city receives has remained essentially flat. In the same period, rent has increased substantially, particularly in Oklahoma City and Tulsa, he said.
“If you have the same amount of money to spread against much higher rents, it doesn't go as far," Straughan said.
Those increased rents tend to be a big factor in driving families with children into homelessness, Straughan said. While individual homeless people may have other barriers keeping them out of housing, such as addiction or mental health issues, the factors that keep homeless families out of housing are usually economic problems like job loss, he said.
Homelessness among families is a particularly dire situation because of the way the experience of being homelessness affects children, he said.
“It's troubling, largely because being homeless can be especially traumatic for kids and have really long-lasting effects with educational attainment and health and behavioral issues long after you get them housed," he said.
Oklahoma's population of homeless veterans also ticked down slightly, falling from 358 in 2016 to 347 this year. The state's homeless veteran population has fallen by about 26 percent since 2010, according to HUD records.
The state also saw a modest drop in chronically homeless people, a category that includes those with disabilities, who have been homeless for more than a year or who have had four or more episodes of homelessness in a year. That total fell from 696 in 2016 to 660 this year, records show. This year's total is a modest increase over the 620 chronically homeless people the state saw in 2010.
In a news release, HUD regional administrator Beth Van Duyne said that, despite the uptick in homelessness overall, the report showed signs of progress.
“HUD remains committed to helping our state and local partners fight homelessness in Oklahoma and throughout the country,” she said. “While 2017 saw a 2.2 percent increase in overall homelessness in the state, levels of chronic homelessness dropped over 16 percent, which is great progress.”