Ending Homelessness in Oklahoma: Progress from 2015

Adventures (1)
By Matt Gleason

Mental Health Association Oklahoma

During one night in January 2015, volunteers went out on the streets, to shelters and encampments, where they counted a total of 333 Oklahomans experiencing chronic homelessness in Oklahoma City, Tulsa and Norman. On that same night, 232 Oklahoma veterans were living homeless on the streets of these same three cities.

These numbers — 333 chronically homeless and 232 veterans — may be difficult to wrap your mind around. After all, it’s easy to see only the numerical digits and forget these numbers represent Oklahomans who were — and many still are — living through a nightmare all on their own.

“People experiencing chronic homelessness” is our way of saying 333 Oklahomans had been homeless four times in the past three years. So think about three years of your life, and all you lived through, and then imagine sleeping on the streets or in a shelter for a week, months or years. Adding to this horrific scenario is having to struggle through a disabling health condition, including untreated serious mental illness, substance abuse disorder, developmental disability, or chronic physical illness or disability.

When we talk about 232 veterans who were homeless, they fought for our country and then ended up facing hardships, like losing their job, their family. They also must deal with the untreated effects of  post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, and other issues that may make it difficult for them to trust others or maintain employment and personal relationships.

The good news is that Oklahoma City, Tulsa and Norman are a part of the national Zero: 2016 campaign organized by the New York-based non-profit Community Solutions. The initiative, comprised of 75 elite communities across the nation, aims to end veteran and chronic homelessness by Dec. 31, 2016. Social workers from each participating city know the names of those in need of housing, where they stay at night, who their case managers are, what mental health issues they may have, and other details that are helping get the most vulnerable citizens off the streets, into housing and connected to services in the community.

Here’s how Zero: 2016 cities in Oklahoma changed and saved lives in 2015.

OKLAHOMA CITY

Forty nonprofits, including the Homeless Alliance, private businesses and government agencies comprise the unique Zero: 2016 campaign dubbed “Journey Home OKC.”

In January of 2015, 214 Oklahoma City residents were counted as chronically homeless, and 125 veterans were on the streets. By the end of 2015, Journey Home OKC agencies had housed 129 people experiencing chronic homelessness, and 262 veterans — more than doubling the number of veterans counted in January 2015.

This progress was made in part by the Homeless Alliance opening its new 20-unit WestTown Apartments housing center located at the nonprofit’s WestTown Resource Center. Another important 2015 milestone was United Way of Central Oklahoma investing $1.2 million to support a collaboration between the Association and The Homeless Alliance, among other United Way agencies. The funding will help our organizations work together to implement Pathways, a specialty case management system. This United Way funding also helps pave the way for the Association to expand the Association’s housing programs into Oklahoma City.

Click here to learn more about Journey Home OKC

TULSA

A Way Home for Tulsa led the way in 2015 for the Zero: 2016 Tulsa initiative that includes 23 Tulsa-area agencies — including the Association — working to prevent and end veteran and chronic homelessness.

Tulsa was on track to providing safe and affordable housing for 289 veterans in Tulsa by the end of 2015. As of November, Tulsa had housed 270 of those 290 veterans. So did Tulsa meet its 2015 goal?

In case you missed the celebration last week, Tulsa didn’t just meet its goal of housing 289 veterans, it surpassed it by 10 veterans who are  now “chronically housed,” as they said at the press conference.

As for ending chronic homelessness? Tulsa housed 78 of the 89 of its most vulnerable citizens. That means Tulsa needs to house 11 more people to end chronic homelessness.

Hopefully the next big celebration will find Tulsans being the first city in the nation to end both veteran and chronic homelessness.

As a side note, the Zero: 2016 initiative in Tulsa led the Association to purchase an additional two complexes in 2015, increasing our housing by almost 60 percent. These additional 492 units of housing will help Tulsa stay on track to ending veteran and chronic homelessness.

Click here to learn more about Zero: 2016 Tulsa

NORMAN

To achieve the Zero: 2016 goal in Norman, a group of social service agencies and businesses banded together under the CoC, Continuum of Care. Together they aimed to offer housing to 85 people experiencing chronic homelessness, and 15 veterans by the end of 2016. 

In 2015, Norman agencies made great progress by housing 21 people experiencing chronic homelessness, and 12 of the 15 veterans.

Lisa Krieg, a grants planner for the city of Norman who helps oversee the housing projects told the Oklahoman, “We will get to zero, and with the education we get, the procedures we put in place, and the structure, once we get to zero we’ll be able to stay at zero.”

Click here to learn more about Norman’s One Vision One Voice

WHAT’S NEXT?

There is still much work to be done in Oklahoma City, Tulsa and Norman to end veteran and chronic homelessness, but there will be much to celebrate at the upcoming Zarrow Symposium in September.

As a part of the Zero: 2016 initiative, the Association and Community Solutions are partnering to present the 2016 National Zarrow Mental Health Symposium  – Ready for Zero: Innovative and Sustainable Solutions for Housing and Recovery. We are expecting over 1,000 people to attend the conference September 28-30 in Tulsa. 

Together, we are thrilled to educate Symposium attendees about housing, clinical and recovery supports, along with innovative solutions to homelessness.

Click here to learn more about Zarrow Symposium.

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