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Oklahoma City nonprofit CityCare to open night shelter for most vulnerable homeless people

A homeless man is interviewed during Oklahoma City's annual Point-in-Time homeless count earlier this year. [The Oklahoman archives]
A homeless man is interviewed during Oklahoma City's annual Point-in-Time homeless count earlier this year. [The Oklahoman archives]

An Oklahoma City nonprofit is planning to open a homeless shelter to house some of the city's most vulnerable people.

CityCare plans to open the 200-bed facility near the corner of Villa Avenue and General Pershing Boulevard next fall.

The facility will offer shelter to people who need a place to sleep on a single night, said Adam Luck executive director of CityCare. The facility is intended to be a "low-barrier" shelter, meaning there will be no requirement that clients stop using drugs or alcohol or get mental health issues under control before coming in off the street.

Luck said the new facility is intended to help make up for emergency shelter beds the city lost about two years ago, when two of the city's largest homeless outreach organizations stopped providing emergency shelter beds.

The City Rescue Mission and Jesus House both shifted away from providing shelter beds, and have refocused their efforts toward recovery programs that are designed to help people cope with addiction, mental health issues and other barriers that keep them out of housing. Although both nonprofits can point to successes their programs have had, the change also meant the two nonprofits stopped offering emergency shelter beds to anyone who wasn't willing to commit to their programs.

Advocates say those changes likely contributed to the growing number of people living on city streets. Oklahoma City has seen a sharp uptick in unsheltered homelessness recently, according to the city's 2018 Point-in-Time count. Although the count showed a 13.5 percent decline in homelessness overall, the number of unsheltered homeless people β€” those living outdoors, in places not meant for human habitation β€” grew by 47 percent over last year.

Although he expects the new facility will be a major part of the solution to the city's unsheltered homelessness problem, Luck said the city needs to have a broader discussion about how to address long-term housing for homeless people.

β€œIt's just a starting point from which we still need to talk about expanding existing services," he said.

Rick Cooper, president and CEO of W&W Steel, purchased the building for CityCare to use as a shelter, Luck said. The organization plans to apply for federally funded Community Development Block Grant money next year to pay Cooper back for the purchase. An $850,000 grant from the Inasmuch Foundation will fund renovations and operations.

Sarah Roberts, a senior program officer for the Inasmuch Foundation, said the foundation was attracted to CityCare's proposal because it represented an opportunity to make progress toward solving a major issue facing the city. The foundation has supported efforts to combat homelessness and poverty for years, Roberts said, but the recent uptick in unsheltered homelessness is alarming.

Roberts said she hopes the project serves a starting point for a broader conversation about how to provide housing for the city's most vulnerable homeless people, and also how to prevent more people from falling into homelessness.

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 ›