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Organizations seek aggressive solution to chronic homelessness in Oklahoma City

A number of public and private organizations in Oklahoma City are making a foray into the nationwide 100,000 Homes program, which seeks to help chronically homeless people and public budgets.
BY MICHAEL KIMBALL Published: December 10, 2012

“You can completely leave aside the moral argument of doing the right thing for these really sick people and just look at it as a pure business proposition,” Straughan explained. “Cost-avoidance is one way of making money, and we're going to avoid significant costs.”

Vulnerability survey

The 100,000 Homes effort involves matching available housing with the chronically homeless people. For example, some military veterans or HIV positive people are eligible for housing with some agencies, and 100,000 Homes involves a concerted effort to find out as much as possible about a person in case there is essentially already a bed waiting for them somewhere.

In Oklahoma City, that starts with a vulnerability survey, and then Homeless Alliance and other groups try to match a homeless person with a program that can serve them.

The Oklahoma City Housing Authority has a two-pronged effort to help. One program, run by a nonprofit set up by the authority, looks to build or renovate housing for the chronically homeless, and a Section Eight housing voucher program can provide the funding for living expenses.

“We're willing to stand up and say we'll have the (housing) unit, and we'll have the voucher,” said Mark Gillett, the authority's executive director.

The short-term goal is to have at least 14 chronically homeless people headed for permanent housing by Feb. 14 — Valentine's Day. The long-term goal is to get as close to eliminating chronic homelessness in the city as possible.

The bottom line is that everyone has a bigger opportunity to be successful if they have a place to live, said Donna Wickes, the federal Housing and Urban Development Department's director of community planning and development in Oklahoma City.

The challenge is to create enough awareness in the community to sustain momentum and collaboration.

“We have to have affordable housing for every level of income in the state,” Wickes said. “That may mean zero income.”