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OKLAHOMA CITY (Free Press) — The latest count of Oklahoma City’s homeless population from this winter shows that 1,339 people were homeless on March 3, 2022.

That number is down from 1,573 in 2020, the last time the annual count was done. The 2021 count was skipped due to the COVID pandemic. But, officials with the City of Oklahoma City and the Oklahoma City Homeless Alliance caution that the lower number may have been due to circumstances of this year’s count.

Point in Time Count

Called the Point-in-Time (PIT) Count, the measure provides documentation for cities across the U.S. to apply for funding from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development to alleviate homelessness.

The PIT count is done each year on a single night after midnight but before dawn in an effort to locate and count people without homes before they begin to get out and move around later in the morning.

point in time homeless count
May Cruz interviews Johnny who her team found sleeping downtown in a parking garage during the Point in Time Count Jan. 2020. (Brett Dickerson/Okla City Free Press)

Typically, it is done in January during cold weather and in the last half of the month when persons’ Social Security money has started to run out, and they are seeking spots in shelters or are camping in identifiable locations.

Even though the easing of the pandemic allowed volunteers to get out for the count this year, there were still circumstances that seem to organizers to have interfered.

“First, because of the pandemic issues, we had to move it from January to February,” said Jerod Shadid, program planner for the City of Oklahoma City’s Homeless Services. “Then, due to winter weather, we had to bump it another week, which moved us from the last week of the month that was very cold to the first week month, which was very warm. That creates a problem for counting people because less people are going to be in shelter.”

Jerod Shadid, program planner for the City of Oklahoma City’s Homeless Services talks with Free Press about the 2022 Point in Time Count. (BRETT DICKERSON/Okla City Free Press)

Shadid said that he believes the count was “artificially low” and that the numbers “probably have increased.”

The numbers

This year’s PIT count numbers were nevertheless sobering.

While the numbers looked familiar to those experienced in the count, one in particular was a surprise: Among those who were without shelter and living outdoors, 50% were experiencing that circumstance for the first time.

“That is surprising,” Shadid told Free Press. “It was really astonishing to me.”

Here are the core numbers from the count:

  • 10% of the population are veterans
  • 16% are members of families with children
  • 36% are female, 63% are male, 1% are transgender or nonconforming
  • 51% are white, 27% are black, 10% are Native American
  • 20% are youth age 24 or younger
  • 28% of the population reports mental illness
  • 35% are considered “chronically” homeless
  • 50% were staying in a shelter, 13% in transitional housing, 35% unsheltered

According to the Homeless Alliance, the survey does not try to count people who are staying in hotels, treatment facilities, emergency rooms, jails or people who are considered “couch homeless.”

Especially youth who are homeless often stay on someone else’s couch or floor. One signficant measure is that at the end of the school year in May, Oklahoma City Public Schools tallied 1,952 homeless children enrolled by the end of the school year. But, that number is not included in the PIT count.

Prevention challenge

Dan Straughan, executive director of the Homeless Alliance, told us that there were two big take-aways from this year’s count that were “no big surprise.”

“As a community, we have gotten really good about moving people from homelessness into housing,” said Straughan. “What we as a community are not so good at is preventing you from becoming homeless in the first place. And, that’s the hard one, right?”

Dan Straughan, executive director of the OKC Homeless Alliance talks with Free Press about the 2022 Point in Time Count. (BRETT DICKERSON/Okla City Free Press)

He told us that the number of evictions have been increasing as the rental costs have increased over that same period of time.

The inflow problem of the evictions is one outcome of increasing rents, but higher rents also means that the money the Homeless Alliance has to put people into rentals and off the street doesn’t go as far.

The issue of keeping people in their current housing becomes a bigger issue, also, as landlords are less likely to be flexible with people who are falling on hard times because the landlord knows that there are others out there waiting to step up and rent the space.

MAPS 4 will help

Both Straughan and Shadid pointed to components of MAPS 4 that will fund much needed infrastructure that can keep people off the streets in the first place.

“Into the future, you see MAPS 4 and there’s so much in there, not just the 50 million to develop housing, but the mental health and substance use campus, the big campus for transition age youth. From my perspective, that’s a homeless prevention program,” Straughan said.

“Taking 14 through 18-year-olds and teaching them life skills, that’s going to keep them out of my system in 20 years,” he continued. The mental health campus and the increase in public transportation would also make a big difference, said Straughan.

Staughan made a comparison of the big cities that are having increasing problems with homeless populations and Oklahoma City as MAPS 4 ramps up.

“I think Oklahoma City is at a place today, where cities like Portland and Seattle and Las Vegas and [Los Angeles] were 15 years ago. And what they failed to do was invest in affordable housing just 10 years ago. And, that’s why they’re where they are today. And we have the potential to avoid that fate.”

Last Updated June 2, 2022, 4:32 PM by Brett Dickerson – Editor