Finding Homes for the Homeless
On any given night in Oklahoma City, as many as 1,300 men and women are homeless living in tents or shelters.
Many of them are considered chronically homeless having spent several years on the streets with no hope of ever having a permanent roof over their heads.
Now, a new program known as 100,000 homes hopes to tackle the issue of chronic homelessness and put an end to the issue over the next four years.
It’s cold this morning as 7 volunteers and employees of the Homeless Alliance and 1 officer from the Oklahoma City Police Department make their way to a wooded area not far from downtown.
They are a part of about a hundred volunteers going out to the streets for three frigid mornings to document, survey and photograph the homeless where they live.
Dogs bark in the distance as we head to the trees and a few people emerge seemingly from nowhere.
Hidden from view are the few tents and scatterings of grocery carts which make up the camp where a young woman who calls herself Krymzyn lives.
She appears older than the age of 36 which she tells the volunteers and lives here with her daughter, boyfriend and about five others.
She’s been on the streets several times, this most recent stint for more than a year.
Krymzyn’s medical condition makes it nearly impossible to find work.
“Because on my apps I won’t lie because of where it says medical conditions I put has seizures and a lot of them won’t hire you with that because it’s a medical, insurance, something. They say it’s a risk.”
Krymzyn’s certainly not the worst person we find as we make our way through the myriad of camps which most people in Oklahoma City would never notice.
In our fourth camp we find Robert who has trouble even emerging from the tent and has to have help to find a seat and talk to one of the volunteers.
Jennifer Thurman, the Deputy Director of the Homeless Alliance, has been out now for three days and says the experience has been eye opening and shocking.
“Quite a few folks that we talk to have been through violent attacks while homeless. A lot of them have medical conditions and self medicate with alcohol or drugs. So, it’s rough out here. It’s one thing to hear it, but it’s another thing to see it when we go into people’s camps and see how they try to stay warm and how they try to take care of one another.”
Oklahoma City is the 102nd metropolitan area to join the program known as 100,000 homes.
The goal is to take two and a half percent of the most medically vulnerable homeless and get them into houses either through HUD or the VA or other agencies.
The Homeless Alliance along with organizations like the United Way, the Inasmuch Foundation, the Oklahoma City Housing Authority and about 40 other agencies hopes to put seven people into homes every month.
This starts with a goal of 14 chronically homeless off the streets by Valentine’s Day.
Because for many of those most in need, the current system isn’t working.
Michael Milner manages the Oklahoma City Day Shelter at the WestTown Resource Center, “I think the fact that we’re able to go out and engage people, understand the risks and vulnerabilities that are there for them and then to have a coordinated approach to then say okay we’re going to house these folks and we’re going to do it as a community I think is a big step.”
Other communities have seen impressive results from the 100,000 homes initiative.
New York City has seen a 70% reduction in costs for the homeless and a 66% cost reduction in the state of Maine.
Others have seen cuts in emergency care and jail use while doubling employment rates and improving mental and physical health of its most vulnerable.
Oklahoma City spends an estimated $28 million a year on the indigent.
But, Homeless Alliance Executive Director Dan Straughan says there’s a bigger reason to see homelessness come to an end in the Sooner State.
“With the kind of heart that we display to our neighbors over and over after the bombing, after the May 3rd tornadoes, after every disaster, homelessness is just a small slow motion disaster and we have the heart to fix it and now we have the tools.”
And just as important thanks to the brave volunteers who went out three cold mornings in a row, we have faces and names of those who so desperately need a home.
For someone like Krymzyn having a permanent place to live would be… well, maybe you should hear it from her.
“It’d be warm. I haven’t had a place I could call my own for a while because of my seizures. It would be wonderful, oh, so wonderful.”
Organizers are hoping to raise seven thousand dollars a month to get at least 84 people in permanent housing by the end of 2013 and all chronically homeless off the streets in four year.
You can find out more information on the web at 100KHomesOKC.org.