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As expected, the pandemic that has caused the greatest unemployment rate since the Great Depression is beginning to show rising numbers of people experiencing homelessness.

Unsheltered

Free Press spoke via telephone to Dan Straughan, Executive Director of the Homeless Alliance.

Straughan explained that we’ve seen a significant increase of unsheltered homelessness in the last six months, and that those numbers have been exacerbated as the coronavirus came on the scene.

One major factor in that increase has been the initial lack of availability of testing for the virus. As a shelter would be unable to test new intakes, they would have to quarantine new guests for fourteen days, limiting their numbers of intakes to one or two every two weeks. For a shelter like City Rescue Mission, where they may see as many as 15 guests leaving the shelter in a day, that leads to a large unused capacity.

As testing became more readily available, there was a lag in test results, resulting in still more delay for sheltering a guest. A person seeking shelter may take a test and have to wait 7 days for results, during which time they may be exposed to coronavirus as they stay on the streets.

Straughan says that set of problems is diminishing as tests are more readily available and test result lags have shortened to only a few days instead of a week.

Evictions

A different problem that can contribute to a rise in homelessness is the wave of unemployment affecting communities across the country.

Currently there is a federal moratorium on eviction from housing that utilizes any federal money. That moratorium expires on July 25, after which there will be a sort of “grace period” of 30 days.

September may come with an explosion of evictions and foreclosures.

The Homeless Alliance is preparing for that eventuality by pivoting to additional prevention services.

Eviction prevention

We spoke via phone to Meghan Mueller, Director of Community Capacity Building at the Homeless Alliance. Mueller explained that early on the Alliance ramped up services for prevention by hiring staff to address issues arising from COVID-19. They hired a prevention case manager and implemented a rapid rehousing program for people displaced by the pandemic.

Demand has been sizable already.

Calls have been coming into the Homeless Alliance looking for rental assistance at a higher rate than ever previously experienced.

The Alliance has hired an second intake specialist just to handle the additional need. They are currently seeing up to ten crisis-related intakes a week, not including intakes from outreach efforts.

Dan Straughan, Homeless Alliance executive director
Dan Straughan, Executive Director of the Homeless Alliance BRETTDICKERSON/Okla City Free Press

Efforts to address the expected rise in evictions in the coming months have also included the establishment of a weekly prevention-related Coordinated Case Management meeting. Agencies community-wide participate in this meeting to serve people already displaced or in imminent danger of displacement. The people served are placed on a “By Name List” as of intake.

Already, there are 30 people in case management through this program between prevention and re-housing efforts. Thirty-one people from the By Name List are waiting for case management.

A part of prevention includes a staff member who attends the eviction docket at the District Court alongside attorneys from Legal Aid. This staffer is charged with doing assessments on the spot, so that a client without a typically “indefensible” excuse for non-payment (lack of money for child care, is a common example) is potentially eligible to walk into the court proceeding with a “Promise to Pay” letter from the Homeless Alliance in order to settle the matter immediately.

“These are time-sensitive needs,” Mueller said.


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