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Who pays for the cremation or burial of the homeless in Oklahoma County?

Program is a blessing to some families who have no finances to bury their loved one.
by Bryan Painter Modified: August 29, 2010 at 1:37 am •  Published: August 29, 2010

Taxpayers in Oklahoma County paid $56,410 for the burial or cremation of 175 individuals during fiscal year 2009-10.

At the time of their death in the county, these people were homeless, destitute or from families with absolutely no means of paying for a burial, said Christi Jernigan, director of the Oklahoma County Social Services.

Out of ad valorem taxes, Oklahoma County pays a flat rate for burials of $700 that is split between the funeral home and the cemetery. With cremations, they pay $315 for adults and $250 for children. The majority are cremations.

Jernigan said they provide burials under circumstances such as the death of some children or if there is a verifiable religious objection to cremation.

Of those 175 individuals, 28 came to the county as "unclaimed." Half of those 28 were babies and half were those who were destitute or homeless. The babies may have been stillborn to a young mother with no family support and little understanding of the importance of prenatal care.

The state medical examiner's office notifies the county about the homeless or others with no family, Jernigan said. This follows an extensive search by the medical examiner's office and law enforcement for family members.

The records of that person are kept permanently by the county.

Jernigan said the cemetery provides the plot for indigent burials. The county pays to open and close the graves.

Urns of cremated remains can be kept by a funeral home for a long period of time. If the remains are not claimed, urns are buried in a county cemetery plot, said Richard L. Dugger II of Perry, a member and former president of the Oklahoma Funeral Board.

On average there are about 1,100 people daily in the shelters and on the streets in the Oklahoma City area. Plus there are the "couch homeless," those who go from one place to another. That number may be about 7,700 in the metro area, said Dan Straughan, executive director of The Homeless Alliance.

Who helps pay?

Jernigan said the county provides funding for people who die in Oklahoma County because of an Oklahoma law under "Sickness or death of poor stranger."

It states, " ... if any person shall die within any county, who shall not have money or means necessary to defray his funeral expenses, it shall be the duty of the overseers of the poor of such county to employ some person to provide for and superintend the burial of such deceased person."

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by Bryan Painter
Assistant Local Editor
Bryan Painter, assistant local editor, has 31 years’ experience in journalism, including 22 years with the state's largest newspaper, The Oklahoman. In that time he has covered such events as the April 19, 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah...
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