Friday, March 16, 2007

Homeless counted in Oklahoma City

THE OKLAHOMAN: article 1/26/07 Section:Local and State page 13A(click)
Poverty: Shelters, aid groups hope population count will lead to help
How many are homeless?
• Last year’s study found about 1,500 people living at camps in metro area.
By John David Sutter Staff Writer
Dural Hurley is homeless and unemployed, but he carries two work identification tags around his neck. They’re reminders that work and hope found him in the past — and he will search them out again. “If I can find one employer who really likes my work, then he’ll put me on fulltime,” said Hurley, 46, who has been sleeping outside for about five months. Hurley was one of hundreds who filled out a “point in time” survey of Oklahoma City’s homeless population Thursday. This is the fourth year advocacy groups have partnered with the city on the survey. Their count a year ago showed about 1,500 people are homeless in the city on any given day. This is the first year workers used a helicopter to augment their count. Dan Straughan, executive director of the Homeless Alliance, rode in the helicopter to count homeless camps from the sky. He said the bird’s-eye view gave him new insight into how widespread homelessness is in Oklahoma City. Straughan said he saw about 30 campsites where homeless people sleep. They’re scattered across the city, from NW 122 to SW 59, he said. It previously was thought that nearly all homeless people lived downtown. The information may lead to new services for people who largely choose to avoid the help available downtown, Straughan said. He said a shelter where residents are allowed to drink could be a possibility, because many homeless people with substance abuse problems refuse to sleep in shelters, since they will be kicked out if caught with liquor or drugs. Some of the people who were spotted live in small tents held up by barrels, he said. Others have built substantial shacks along the Oklahoma River, made of corrugated metal and scrap lumber. A different approach Most of the homeless people are counted by surveys distributed at shelters and locations that serve free meals. Straughan acknowledged the helicopter might have been frightening to some of those counted, but the information collected may benefit them. Volunteers and nonprofit groups pay for the survey. Oklahoma City’s helicopter was used, and the city paid for the fuel, police Capt. Steven McCool said. About 70 volunteers passed out surveys asking an array of questions: Where did you sleep last night? Do you have mental health or substance abuse issues? What family members could you fall back on? Answers help shelters and private aid groups know how best to help, organizers said. “We’re in the business of serving people,” said Jennifer Gooden, program coordinator at the Homeless Alliance, “and like any business, you’ve got to have working information. You’ve got to know who you’re serving.” This year’s survey gathers more detailed information than before. Gooden said some of it will be used to extrapolate a social cost of homelessness based on jail time, medical care, emergency room visits and other services that drain public money because so many people live on the street. A tough life Hurley just hopes people will understand how difficult it is to lose everything. After his wife died about five years ago, he moved from Idaho to Oklahoma, he said. He found himself jobless, unable to pay rent and eventually on the street. “You never know with day labor. It’s kind of hard to pay rent when you don’t know what you’ve got coming in,” he said. He said he’s had his only possessions — a sleeping bag, blankets and clothes — stolen by other homeless people. And it’s hard to find a job without transportation, so he’s saving up for a bike or an old car. “I know if I had a nice apartment before, I can get back to that again. It’s just going to take some time to figure things out and do it.” Until then, he will continue walking 30 minutes to a temporary worker center each morning. He arrived at 4:45 a.m. Thursday, he said, and no work was available for the day. Few temp jobs have been available since frigid weather hit the city more than a week ago, he said. Margaret, 39, said the homelessness survey she took was not a bother, but she doubts it will help. “How is it going to benefit the homeless?” she said. “I don’t know. They need to possibly figure out a way to get some jobs of something for people, for them to get their foot in the door somewhere. “That would be a start.”

BY CHRIS LANDSBERGER, THE OKLAHOMAN Homeless Alliance volunteer Jennifer Gooden helps an Oklahoma City homeless man fill out a census survey at the Baptist Church Mission downtown on Thursday.

(I 've personally known this man for just over a year...he is alright)

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