The Norman City Council approved $100,000 to develop a strategic plan to address homelessness Tuesday night, but not without questions and concerns from some councilors.
The contract for the strategic plan was placed on the consent docket, but was removed for discussion. Ward 6 Elizabeth Foreman wanted to know why the city was being asked to pursue the study when one had been done previously.
“About two years ago we did another study for this and awarded it to a Jill Spangler,” Foreman said. “There was a study, there were months’ worth of focus groups and all that, and then nothing came of that.”
Michelle Evans, the city’s homeless programs coordinator, said the study was small at the time, and while it did illuminate how the city could better apply for and use federal funds, now is the time for a long-term strategic plan.
Ward 1 Kate Bierman said a group of residents who are serving immediate, emergency needs to unhoused individuals expressed concern that the expense would subtract from available funds to serve those needs.
“Those immediate needs will always be in a community and that is something we look at everyday, those gaps and how we can meet them,” Evans said.
The long-term goal of the city’s program is permanent housing for all who face homelessness.
Evans pointed out the city opened its first winter warming shelter in 2019 and permanently housed 62 people as the result of the program. The program also increased outreach efforts to homeless encampments, Evans said.
While the council planned a $120 million general bond package that included $5 million for a homeless resource center and a homeless and housing strategic plan study, voters declined to approve the bond in August 2020.
Now, the program is back to the drawing board.
The gap between needs and resources, “is going to get bigger,” Evans said. “If we don’t have a study like this which is going to help us long term, that gap is going to continue to widen. That truly is my greatest fear.”
In addition to the city’s ad hoc committee to address homelessness, Evans said “federal and state partners” were also in favor of their decision to pursue a strategic plan.
“Everyone agreed,” she said. “They’re like, ‘This is what we need to address this on this level.’”
Homebase Inc. was awarded the contract, with Foreman voting against the item.
In other business, the city approved $140,000 in funds to address remaining debris from the October ice storm in gated communities, but chose not to use Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security Act funds as previously planned. The expense will be paid with sanitation funds.
Editor's note: this story has been updated to reflect storms debris removal in gated communities will be paid from sanitation funds.