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Archive for Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Homeless population increases in OKC

April 4, 2007

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— Fueled by an increase in the number of homeless families with children, Oklahoma City's homeless population grew by nearly 25 percent over the last year, according to a study on the city's homeless population released Tuesday.

The annual "Point in Time" count of the homeless in January counted 1,930 homeless individuals in Oklahoma City, an increase from the 1,555 people counted in January 2006, said Dan Straughan, executive director of the Homeless Alliance, an Oklahoma City-based advocacy group for the homeless.

The Homeless Alliance teamed with city officials and the Coalition for the Needy to conduct the count at shelters, hot meal programs and encampment across the city. It's estimated the actual number of homeless is four to five times higher than the one-night census.

In addition to the growing number of homeless families, several new counting sites were added that boosted the number by about 240 people, said Jennifer Gooden, program coordinator for the Homeless Alliance.

"The increase is due both to better counting methods and an actual increase in the homeless population," Gooden said.

The increase in the number of homeless families with children is particularly disturbing because most resources for the homeless generally aren't geared for families, Straughan said.

"We have shelters that were built and designed to handle the homeless population from 20 years ago, and that was predominantly single adult males with substance abuse problems and mental illness, or both," he said. "That was our homeless population then, and it's still our largest demographic, but we just don't have the capacity for families with children."

Of the homeless individuals surveyed, about 35 percent reported they were staying in emergency shelters, while 34 percent were staying on the streets, in vehicles or other areas not designed for human habitation.

The survey also found about 74 percent of the homeless reported their last permanent residence was in Oklahoma City, while 19 percent reported living somewhere else in Oklahoma. Only 7 percent of those surveyed reported living in another state before becoming homeless in Oklahoma City.

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