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As temperature drops, OKC's shelters offer a warm place to stay

In this photo from October, a homeless man gets a hot breakfast at the Homeless Alliance's day shelter in Oklahoma City. [Photo by Jim Beckel, The Oklahoman]

In this photo from October, a homeless man gets a hot breakfast at the Homeless Alliance's day shelter in Oklahoma City. [Photo by Jim Beckel, The Oklahoman]

About two weeks after they worked out the details, Oklahoma City's shelters are putting the city's recently-reworked plan for housing homeless people on cold nights into action this week.

As overnight temperatures dipped well below freezing this week, homeless shelters suspended certain rules and allowed people who normally spend nights outdoors to come inside and sleep on cots and mats. Apart from a few hiccups, the plan appears to be working. But with colder months ahead, advocates worry they'll need to open up additional space as more people begin coming in off the street.

The plan goes into effect anytime overnight low temperatures in Oklahoma City are expected to drop below freezing. City officials have enacted the plan on Friday, Monday and Tuesday nights.

When that plan goes into effect, the city's shelters have space to offer emergency beds to 164 people. If that space fills up, Grace Rescue Mission will open its gymnasium to allow another 60 people to sleep on cots. If the gymnasium fills up, the Homeless Alliance will open its day shelter, which has space for another 100 people.

The city's shelters housed 136 people who came in off the streets Monday night, as temperatures in Oklahoma City dropped to 19 degrees.

Dan Straughan, executive director of the nonprofit Homeless Alliance, said it's worrisome that the city's shelters have already come so close to the 164-person threshold before winter officially begins. Still, he said, if the emergency shelters do see bigger crowds in the months to come, the backup space at Grace Rescue Mission and the Homeless Alliance will likely be enough to house everyone.

The Salvation Army, which has room for 90 cots, housed 87 people Monday night. Meanwhile, other shelters, including the City Rescue Mission, Grace Rescue Mission and Sanctuary Women's Development Center, were only about half full, Straughan said.

In the weeks to come, advocates will work to make sure the group of homeless people seeking a warm place to sleep is more evenly distributed among the shelters that have space available. That will likely be a matter of providing transportation from one shelter to another, he said.

Janet Miller, residential services manager for the Salvation Army, said the shelter saw no problems Monday night, despite the crowd. Miller said she wasn't overly concerned about the colder months ahead and people seeking shelter in larger numbers. The shelter is prepared to keep offering emergency beds, regardless of what winter brings, she said.

"Whatever comes, it comes," Miller said. "There's not much we can do about it.”

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 ›