A small percentage of Oklahoma City's homeless population costs taxpayers millions in services.
About 270 people in the city meet the definition of chronically homeless, said Dan Straughan, executive director of The Homeless Alliance, the nonprofit that has worked to address and solve homelessness in Oklahoma City since its 2005 inception.
The 270 chronically homeless people, counted and interviewed by volunteers in January, make up about 20 percent of the homeless population.
The chronically homeless are defined as those who have been homeless for at least a year or four times in three years and have a disabling condition, such as alcoholism or mental illness.
The city homeless population costs taxpayers about $29 million a year, according to a 2010 study by The Homeless Alliance. Half of that pays for public services such as jail costs, fire response, police work, emergency room visits and ambulance service.
“The chronically homeless make up 20 percent of the whole homeless population, but they consume about 45 percent of the dollars in services,” Straughan said.
A program launched in Oklahoma City in January — 100,000 Homes Campaign — has started housing this population by using a somewhat controversial strategy called “housing first.”
It's different from the “housing readiness” strategy used for decades. Housing readiness means a problem like addiction has to be solved before access to public housing.
“Housing first” means the homeless are put in a home and services are offered before a problem such as substance abuse is solved.
The nationwide 100,000 Homes Campaign seeks to permanently house 100,000 of the country's most vulnerable homeless people.
“They will never be ready for housing if ready means sober and stable on mental health meds and all that kind of stuff,” Straughan said of the chronically homeless living in the metro area. “You can't do that when you're living under a bridge.”
The “housing first” model was pioneered by New York City shelters. Dozens of cities are rolling it out, driven by a goal set in 2010 by the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness to eliminate chronic homelessness by 2015.