Homelessness in OKC: We Have Made Gains, But There is More To Do

Though Oklahoma City is known for its servant heart, our city faces surprising rates of chronic homelessness. The Homeless Alliance in Oklahoma City reported 1,300 homeless people in this year’s one-night census. While that is 1,300 too many, the number is an improvement.

The number of homeless people in Oklahoma City decreased by nearly 12 percent compared to 2014. According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, the number of homeless in our state decreased by nearly five percent from 2013 to 2014. By working together, Oklahomans are making a real difference.

One nonprofit organization helping our city realize positive gains in the fight against homelessness is City Care. This organization is dedicated to providing the homeless with transitional housing while helping them build the skills they need to get back on their feet. City Care, which would not be possible without the support of the public, also offers therapy services to residents and tutoring to inner-city children.

While there may be no single cause of homelessness, nearly one-fourth of homeless people have severe mental illnesses. Consequently, City Care has a therapist on staff at all times for its residents.

In addition to mental illness, 36 percent of Oklahoma City’s homeless struggle with substance abuse. As a result, City Care provides classes for those with drug and alcohol addictions while also requiring residents to stay clean.

City Care also aims to fight homelessness among children in at-risk communities. According to Homeless Children America, Oklahoma is 31st in child homelessness. The mission of City Care’s Whiz Kids program is to improve the well-being of inner-city children through academic tutoring and mentoring relationships. Whiz Kids is proactive and preventative in nature, targeting children reading below grade level.

While some may say the positive gains we have seen justify resting on our laurels, that simply is not true. The Homeless Alliance of Oklahoma City estimates that a community’s annual number of homeless is four to five times its one-night census. That means 5,200 to 6,500 people are homeless in Oklahoma City right now. Our city needs us to continue working together. One way the public can help City Care is through our annual ZeroK OKC Food and Music Festival. This year’s family friendly event begins at 5 p.m. on Oct. 17 at Crystal Lake near I-40 and MacArthur Avenue. It is a fun way for Oklahomans to sustain the positive progress we have made in the fight against homelessness.

Oklahomans can realize ambitious goals when we come together. We united and persevered after the 1995 bombing of the Murrah Federal Building. Similarly, citizens have helped pick up the pieces with those whose homes were destroyed by tornadoes in the last two decades. I urge all of us to continue that same spirit in the fight against homelessness. We have realized great gains in the last few years. Let’s maintain that same pace and achieve an even greater future for our city.