The face of Norman’s homeless population is changing — today the working poor comprises a large portion of the homeless population.
“We see a lot of families who don’t qualify for TANF because they work,” Food and Shelter for Friends Executive Director April Doshier said.
“You see more and more what we call precariously housed which means they’re one paycheck away from homelessness,” said Norman Grant Planner Lisa Craig. “They’re up against that every payday.”
Some who are re-employed may be working at lower paying jobs or working fewer hours than in previous years.
“I think there are still a lot of households that are playing catch up,” Craig said. “Everybody has scaled back a little bit.”
Loss of a job tops the list of reasons people become homeless along with other major life-changers such as serious illness, divorce or a car wreck.
“We actually have two cases we’re working right now where cancer is the primary reason the family became homeless,” Doshier said.
Whatever the cause, homeless populations are some of the nation’s most vulnerable citizens.
“It’s people who don’t usually get a voice,” said Norman City Council member Tom Kovach. “They are citizens, they are taxpayers. A lot of them are working, but they may not have a home. Many of us are one tragedy away from being homeless.”
While solutions can be complex, help is on the way in Norman. Grants recently received by five agencies in the city are aimed at the prevention of homelessness and rapid rehousing. Food and Shelter for Friends received $50,000 while East Main Place, Thunderbird Clubhouse, Women’s Resource Center, and the Salvation Army each received grants for $100,000 under the new program.
“In the summer, we had gotten a special allocation of $84,000,” Doshier said. “We actually got the most money.”
These grants represent a change in how homelessness is being addressed in the nation.
“The new focus is getting people into their own houses as soon as possible,” Doshier said.
The grants can be used in a variety of ways. Some of the money is geared to prevent homelessness by helping to pay rent or repair a car so the family’s bread winner can get to work, but shelters will still receive funding.
Kovach said even if the homeless grants are successful, Norman still needs temporary shelters.
“We are woefully inadequate in the number of shelter beds in this community,” he said
“The grant has funding for the operation of the shelters in it,” Craig said. “That’s one of the components in it. The uniqueness about this program is that it provides the opportunity to assess the needs of the household — the current situation they’re in, how they got into the situation and how to get them out of it.”
The new program involves case management including a Housing Stabilization Plan, Craig said, and the solutions are “more encompassing.”
“In the previous plan, you had to have the cut off notice or the eviction notice,” Craig said. “This lets you look at the comprehensive needs of the client to get them stabilized.”
“They can help pay rent to keep people from being kicked out of their apartments, and they can use it for first month’s rent to get people back into housing,” said Linda Price, city revitalization planner. “These are brand new programs.”
The grants are competitive.
“We had to put the pencil to this one,” Craig said. “This is a completely new program. The Executive Committee of the Continuum of Care which is primarily the shelter directors and myself, spent probably a month in several different sessions going through the applications to see how we could make it work.”
While the growing homeless demographic is comprised of families, the new program also provides relief for the chronically homeless, many of which suffer from mental illness.
“Food and Shelter and Thunderbird Clubhouse are working together with a couple of the street homeless that have been identified as particularly vulnerable to really do outreach with them and try to move them toward permanent housing,” Craig said.
Doshier said Thunderbird Clubhouse provides help with life skills and life services while Community and Mental health helps with counseling and medications.
“I think one of the things that help us move together for progress is all of these entities working together instead of competing with each other,” Kovach said.
All of the non-profits that received grant funds still primarily depend on fundraisers and donations.
“How we take care of our most vulnerable tells a lot about what kind of community we are,” Kovach said.