NORMAN — On a recent Monday, the last residents of East Main Place loaded their belongings, pulled out on Main Street and headed for another apartment somewhere in the city.
The shelter, once an employee dormitory for Central State Hospital, has closed its 21 apartments at 1100 E. Main and reassigned others it manages offsite. Since June of 1992, the site has provided transitional housing for thousands. Residents can stay a year and have to take care of any warrants and bills, attend counseling and meetings.
The closing follows a perfect storm of activity this fall. The building’s boiler couldn’t be repaired for the fall season. Board members offered to raise the money to fix it but the site is targeted for other uses by a committee looking at the city’s east side redevelopment. Some funding streams also were being reduced or eliminated at the same time.
“The catalyst would be the boiler system,” said Ginny Corson, executive director and one of two remaining employees. “It was going to have to be replaced or an alternative heat system installed.”
Board member Sarah Hall said the non-profit could have weathered any one of the challenges but not all three at once.
“It was sad,” she said of the boiler problem. “It was right after we lost some funding so it was really heartbreaking.”
Corson, the director, is excited about the collaboration of non-profit agencies coming together to address homelessness here.
“We’re one of the last of a dying breed of social services agencies over here,” she said. “It’s time for new approaches to tackling the problem of homelessness.”
That may take a few years to materialize and build. In the meantime, East Main Place is advising clients that inquire that they have no place for them.
“The gap is the loss of 21 apartments I don’t know what’s going to happen with that,” Corson said.
The employee dormitory used by East Main Place was built at a time when Central State had hundreds of employees and thousands of patients. Only one of the three dormitory buildings was rehabbed by East Main Place. The building’s owners, the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, doesn’t plan on making any repairs.
“It’s a real money pit,” said Corson.
The building was the recipient of a renovation grant in its early days and was overseen by the Community Action Program. It later formed its own non-profit with a separate board of directors.
Over the years, churches and individuals adopted “apartments” and allowed residents to take the donated furniture when they moved out. Scout groups and neighborhoods brought gifts, planted flowers and painted rooms.
Board president Sandy Dunaway said the condition of the building and uncertainty as to the site’s future prompted the board’s decision.
“We did everything we could to save it,” she said. “It’s sad but it’s an old building and there’s only so much you can do.”
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