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February 17, 2014

Helping the poor and the needy

NORMAN — Editor, The Transcript:

All of us who work with people who are struggling in some way — people who are homeless, going without health care, those who suffer from illnesses whether mental or physical, or maybe multiple challenges — we all share the hope that demand for our services will, over time, decrease to the point that our agencies are no longer necessary. We strive for a time when the weak become strong, the hungry have food and those without homes have shelter.

Several weeks ago, East Main Place, a longtime Norman resource, a nonprofit transitional housing program for individuals and families who are homeless, closed its doors. East Main Place did not close because of a decreasing need for its programs and beds — far from it. Losing clean, safe living spaces for 21 households, spaces that were lovingly furnished by faith communities, scout groups, neighborhoods and others over the last 20 or more years, will hurt. This is a serious reduction in the number of beds available for Norman’s citizens who are homeless. We are losing a program and supportive services that worked hard to help people get back on track and return to self-sufficiency.

As described in Andy Rieger’s thoughtful column on Jan. 26, East Main Place suffered the perfect storm of difficult circumstances. Using Central State Hospital employee quarters built in 1950 was ambitious and innovative at the time and a lot of people worked extremely hard to make and keep them safe and functioning. However, as Executive Director Ginny Corson and others have shared, the cost of maintaining and operating the building was impossible with the limited resources available. In short, the structure that since the early 1950s has provided a safe home for many members of our community has reached the end of its physical lifespan.

The question has been asked “what happened to the residents that were at East Main Place when they closed? Are they homeless again?” The answer is an emphatic no, each of the households that were receiving services when the East Main Place Board of Directors made the difficult decision to close were not returned to homelessness. As an example of how the agencies work together, the Norman Housing Authority negotiated with HUD to convert the existing funding the East Main Place was receiving, to tenant vouchers so that each household could obtain permanent housing. Other households receiving services that were not housed at the East Main Place facility were placed in the care of other provider agencies so that their services could seamlessly continue.

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