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Oklahoma City's Homeless Population Increases 16 Percent Over Last Year, Annual Census Says

People watch an Olympic Games event on television at the Homeless Alliance day shelter in Oklahoma City.
Brent Fuchs
The Journal Record

A survey of Oklahoma City's homeless population shows a 16 percent increase in people living on the streets.

The Oklahoma City Planning Department's Housing and Community Development Division released the results of the 2016 Point-in-Time study Wednesday.

The city's annual census of the homeless population took place on January 28, and counted just over 1,500 people. It's estimated the community's homeless population for the entire year is about four to five times higher than the one-night tally.

Read The 2016 Point-In-Time Report

The Homeless Alliance's executive director Dan Straughan told the Oklahoma Public Media Exchange’s Michael Cross the increase comes despite efforts from non-profit and faith-based groups.

“The system, especially in Oklahoma City and Tulsa, is more effective and more efficient really that it’s ever been,” Straughan said. “When you see increases like this, it’s really disheartening.”     

Oklahoma City’s day shelter saw an average of 310 people compared to 275 last year. Straughan says state budget cuts have forced a decline in section eight vouchers for affordable housing and social services.

The 2016 increase comes despite efforts from non-profit and faith-based groups that housed 320 veterans and 195 chronically homeless individuals over the past year.

Five years ago, Oklahoma City resident Willard Payne lost his trucking job, and a year later he lost his home due to a foreclosure, The Oklahoman’s Silas Allen reports:

So Payne, a U.S. Army veteran, slept in his truck or stayed with relatives for the next four years until last September, when he moved into the City Rescue Mission. From there, he moved into WestTown Apartments, a housing complex at the Homeless Alliance's WestTown Resource Center. Along with housing, Payne receives counseling on finding a job. He hopes to go back to work soon, he said. In the meantime, he knows he has a place to sleep at night.

Oklahoma City has spent about $121,000 on social services this year, which is about 20 cents per resident, according to The Journal Record’s Brian Brus:

Officials in other cities across the nation reported similar ratios, although they stressed that direct comparisons are difficult due to differences in accounting processes. Also, the vast majority of funds come from the state, federal grants and private contributions, which also vary depending on circumstance, past program success and needs. The Oklahoma City Council recently approved its annual disbursement of more than $3.3 million in federal aid to a dozen agencies, including Red Rock Behavioral Health Services, YWCA, HeartLine and Hope Community Services. And City Hall spokeswoman Kristy Yager said the city donated land for development of WestTown Homeless Resource Campus, where several agencies have gathered to make resources more accessible. [Oklahoma City associate municipal planner and community development specialist Jerod] Shadid said City Hall is interested in homeless trends because good civic planning must respond to all people in the community. To that end, he said, developers are required to include affordable housing in their plans so that low-income needs are dispersed throughout the city instead of focused in a ghetto.

Brian Hardzinski is from Flower Mound, Texas and a graduate of the University of Oklahoma. He began his career at KGOU as a student intern, joining KGOU full time in 2009 as Operations and Public Service Announcement Director. He began regularly hosting Morning Edition in 2014, and became the station's first Digital News Editor in 2015-16. Brian’s work at KGOU has been honored by Public Radio News Directors Incorporated (PRNDI), the Oklahoma Association of Broadcasters, the Oklahoma Associated Press Broadcasters, and local and regional chapters of the Society of Professional Journalists. Brian enjoys competing in triathlons, distance running, playing tennis, and entertaining his rambunctious Boston Terrier, Bucky.
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