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Many homeless people avoid shelters

Despite an influx of dangerously cold winter weather, many Oklahoma City homeless people refuse to leave their camps to stay in shelters, for a variety of reasons.
by Graham Lee Brewer Modified: December 5, 2013 at 7:59 pm •  Published: December 6, 2013

Sleet and snow crackled on the roof of Jackson Poadger's tent as he and three fellow homeless people warmed themselves Thursday with a small camping stove.

Poadger and his friends were riding out the storm in a wooded area near downtown Oklahoma City. They've been living there for the past 11/2 weeks.

Oklahoma City has about a half dozen homeless shelters, ranging from ones with more than 400 beds to smaller, specialized ones with closer to a dozen, said Dan Straughan, executive director of the Homeless Alliance.

There are as many as 300 “unsheltered” people in Oklahoma City, Straughan said. Some of them choose not to go to shelters and end up under bridges or in tents.

The reasons people give for avoiding the shelters vary. Some homeless people may have mental health or substance abuse issues, while others may have dogs, which aren't allowed in the shelters.

Poadger, 54, said that if he and his friends went to a nearby homeless shelter, they would risk losing their meager belongings to thieves.

“We'd lose everything we own,” said Poadger as he clutched his small puppy. “It's getting to be really bad, the homeless preying on the homeless.”

Jack Fontenot, 43, who says he's been homeless now for two years, sat next to Poadger in the tent and said the state Health Department posted notices earlier that day telling them to vacate the area.

“Right now it's cold and the weather's bad, and they expect us to move in this,” Fontenot said. “That's just not right.”

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by Graham Lee Brewer
General Assignment/Breaking News Reporter
Graham Lee Brewer began his career as a journalist covering Oklahoma's vibrant music scene in 2006. After working as a public radio reporter for KGOU and then Oklahoma Watch, where he covered areas such as immigration and drug addiction, he went...
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