As city officials prepare to address countywide homelessness, the scale of the issue remains unclear due to homeless program coordinator Michelle Evans’ unwillingness to publicly provide detailed or consistent shelter occupancy numbers.
Since June, The Transcript has repeatedly requested Evans provide monthly occupancy reports for the city’s overnight shelter after apparent inconsistencies were observed between data provided to the newspaper and numbers recorded in meeting minutes from the city’s Ad Hoc Committee to Address Homelessness.
The Transcript took up this line of questioning when it was assumed the data would be more readily available due to seven-years worth of data from her office being analyzed as part of an ongoing $100,000 study to inform the city’s upcoming Strategic Homeless Plan.
The plan is the latest effort the city has taken to find a more permanent shelter solution for its unhoused community following the failed General Obligation Norman 2020 bond package. The package included a proposition to devote $5 million toward constructing one or more built solutions assisting homeless individuals and families.
Evans previously said the plan will inform the city’s decisions on homelessness, including whether or not there is a need for a permanent shelter.
She said a continued increase in average nightly numbers and the number of total unduplicated visits the shelter has received supports the need for a more permanent solution.
The unduplicated numbers recorded by Evans reflect the number of unique visits the shelter receives each month as opposed to repeat visits from unhoused individuals recorded in the city’s average nightly numbers.
When asked about inconsistencies in numbers and requests to have monthly occupancy reports provided, Evans said she “did not appreciate being questioned in such a fashion” and declined to provide the reports.
“This line of questioning is getting into the weeds,” Evans said. “The only information you need are the monthly averages I provide and the total unduplicated numbers since the shelter opened.”
While Evans refused to provide the reports, Norman City Manager Darrel Pyle agreed Friday to provide the monthly reports by Monday afternoon as they are “publicly available information.”
Pyle added that while data from August 2021 forward would be easily available, he would have to check the format of reports between December 2020 and August 2021 because they differed from how Evans currently tracks the data.
‘We don’t have time’
When asked for homelessness numbers, Evans said retrieving shelter occupancy reports would redirect too much manpower from the daily operations of her department.
Additionally, she said sharing this data with the public could be confusing and unnecessary if given out of context.
However, Evans has also said she’s collected and provided the company contracted to complete the strategic plan study, San Francisco-based nonprofit Homebase, with more than seven years’ worth of data reported by her office to the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
To supplement the city’s reports, The Transcript also tried to conduct its own count based on nightly sign-in sheets and applications to stay in the emergency shelter. However, a request for this information with protected personal information redacted was denied by the city attorney due to privacy concerns related to the sensitive nature of included data.
As an alternative, Evans on Sept. 17 redirected The Transcript to the biweekly meeting minutes from the city’s Ad Hoc Committee to Address Homelessness. She provides emergency shelter updates at those meetings and said the update numbers would work as a reliable substitute for her actual reports.
“Those [numbers] are exactly what are in the ad hoc minutes,” Evans said in an email. “We don’t have time to go back and pull each report. Ad hoc minutes reflect the unduplicated shelter numbers from the beginning.”
The numbers reported by Evans in several Ad Hoc meetings appeared to conflict with certain numbers Evans had provided Transcript reporters.
When asked for clarification on these numbers on Oct. 6, Evans had said the newspaper should have come directly to her for numbers instead of relying on the meeting minutes as a source, despite having previously directed it to consult those same minutes.
Yet when again asked for the data in the actual reports, Evans declined to provide them and cited her aggregated numbers as the only source necessary.
“I can’t speak for the meeting minutes, but the data I provide comes directly from those reports,” Evans said. “Outside of that, I or anyone else in my office does not have time to break it down further.”
The Transcript is not the only party who has previously been turned down by Evans when asked for a clearer breakdown on the numbers provided during the ad hoc meetings.
Former Ward 6 Councilor Bill Scanlon said he has been at nearly every meeting and has been frustrated by Evans’ lack of consistent reporting.
“As a ‘guest’ at the ad hoc meetings, I’m not sure I have the right to be frustrated,” Scanlon said. “That said, it does bother me that the numbers haven’t always been available — though that’s improved — and that I personally have trouble tracking [them from] one meeting to the next.”