A survey found 383 chronically homeless people in Oklahoma City this week, 153 more than were found in a similar canvass last year.
The chronically homeless are among a larger population of homeless, unsheltered people. Last year, this population numbered 1,300 people.
This year's comparable number has not been released. This doesn't include “couch homeless,” people who stay temporarily with friends or family members; that number is estimated to be five to 10 times the “countable” homeless population.
More than 100 volunteers conducted the annual “Point in Time” survey. Of the chronically homeless, 159 people were identified as medically vulnerable because of substance abuse, mental illness, limited mobility and other chronic diseases. Seventy are veterans. Those considered chronically homeless are people who have been homeless for at least a year or four times during the past three years.
Oklahoma City is participating in the 100,000 Homes Campaign, a nationwide initiative seeking to permanently house 100,000 of the country's most vulnerable homeless people. Information from the survey will be used in conjunction with that effort.
Survey findings were released Friday at the United Way of Central Oklahoma headquarters. The Homeless Alliance, which is leading the 100,000 Homes initiative in Oklahoma City, is a United Way Partner Agency.
Homes before readiness
The 100,000 Homes Campaign uses a model in which groups work together to place medically vulnerable people in housing first, before trying to address their other issues. This is the opposite of common practice in which certain criteria, such as sobriety, must be met before housing will be provided.
“It is unreasonable for us as a community to expect a 20-year chronic alcoholic to get sober while he's living under a bridge,” said Dan Straughan, executive director of The Homeless Alliance.
The local campaign has committed to finding permanent housing for 2.5 percent of the city's vulnerable homeless each month, which amounts to seven Oklahoma City people monthly.
Faces of homelessness
“It's about Anthony,” Straughan said.
Anthony represents the city's medically vulnerable and chronic homeless population, Straughan explained. Anthony is a frequent guest at the WestTown Homeless Resource Center. He lives on the porch of a burned-out house and, after at least one stroke, suffers from severely limited mobility, speech and bodily control.
It takes Anthony the better part of an hour just to stop shivering from his short, labored walk to the day shelter, Straughan said.
“Anthony has been on the streets of our city for at least a decade, near as we can tell, and he's likely to die there if we don't do something about it,” Straughan said. Others photographed and registered during the survey had been chronically homeless as long as 30 years.
Like many medically vulnerable homeless, Straughan said, Anthony is a regular visitor to emergency rooms due to falls and injuries. Straughan said the state could save millions of dollars by placing people like Anthony in homes instead of absorbing the cost of treating them over and over and then putting them back on the street.