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October 10, 2013

Birth of Bridges Norman

NORMAN — In the early 1990s, counselors and staff at Norman High School noticed the emergence of homeless teens who were alone because of family crises such as incarceration, homelessness or parental death.

The Mayor’s Task Force on Homeless Youth was created for these students.

At that time, state law forbade students from attending high school without a parent or guardian, and they were forced to drop out.

The only jobs available were minimum-wage positions, and because they were not yet 18, they couldn’t execute a contract for rent, make car payments or receive insurance. They were ineligible for government assistance and social services, and their diminishing options put them at risk for illegal ways to earn money.

In 1993, the Mayor’s Task Force got the legal guardian law changed so homeless students could stay in high school. In 1995, a University of Oklahoma student began working with Norman High’s homeless population, and the task force became a nonprofit agency.

The first paid employee was hired in 2000, and in 2001, the agency purchased Sooner Pointe apartments, 20 units across from Norman North High School, and began housing eligible students.

The goal of the Bridges program is to assist students by removing barriers to graduation, which includes help with food, clothing, shelter and medical needs. The students also receive counseling in life skills.

In 2005, as their centennial project, the three Norman Rotary Clubs, in conjunction with the Norman Affordable Housing Corporation, raised funds to build a student center with a living area, kitchen, computer lab, laundry, offices and two additional apartments.

In 2007, the name ILSY was changed to Bridges. Today, Bridges serves about 51 students per year, with about 20 per semester living on site and the rest in scattered housing.

Bridges is a United Way of Norman agency, with additional funding provided by rental income, grants and community donations.

— Source: bridgesnorman.org

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