City close to opening new warming shelter

A library patron worked on a computer at the Norman Public Library Central, Tuesday, Sept. 3, 2019. The old library central on Webster Avenue will be used as a three month temporary warming shelter. (Kyle Phillips / The Transcript)

The target opening date for the city's warming shelter in the former library on Webster Avenue is Tuesday.

Michelle Evans, the city's homeless program coordinator said the date is the most unofficial-official date that she can provide at this time because it's dependent on the arrival of supplies.

"It's all coming together really quickly. I mean think about where we were three weeks ago," Evans said. "[There are] a lot of moving parts, but it's almost done."

Some churches throughout the community will supply toiletries and personal-hygiene items and they are waiting to see what the Red Cross can offer, Evans said during Tuesday's meeting of the local committee to address homelessness. Norman Regional Health System donated some supplies Tuesday after the meeting.

A warming shelter is similar to a homeless shelter, but offers temporary refuge for those trying to stay out of the cold weather. The city's committee to address homelessness has a budget for its warming shelter, but Evans said she is unable to release the official budget since items are still being added.

"The contracts are final to the point to where all parties have to sign them, so as we all know its not final until signatures are on it," Evans said. "That's why we want to wait, but as far as the funds appropriated for what we need for the shelter we are within the budget given."

In preparation for the coldest months of the year, the committee began tackling a warming shelter Nov. 5. During the committee's weekly Tuesday meeting, several members said they plan to continue discussions for longterm needs, trouble shooting and a permanent day shelter.

The committee plans to continue meeting every Tuesday at 10 a.m. in city hall's conference room while they look at those needs. Conversations about a permanent day shelter have begun, but once the warming shelter is open Evans said they will delve further into those discussions.

"I think once the shelter is open we will obviously have challenges, things that will need to be addressed, but I think that will be the continuation of the discussion," Evans said.

Jeanne Snider, assistant city attorney, reminded everyone during the meeting that the permanent day shelter will not be located on the city's campus, and that the warming shelter is a three-month temporary fix.

"I don't want to slow the roll until we know what we are doing with the long-term, and this is something that we have good momentum but we need to keep going," Alison Petrone, Ward 3 council member, said Tuesday.

On Nov. 14, Evans said the most current numbers for unsheltered individuals that have been identified throughout Norman is 347 and there are an additional 61 at-risk individuals. These numbers represent the people who have been on their radar and have been identified since January, Evans said, but she noted these numbers are difficult to get exact since people move frequently throughout the city.

The plans haven't changed for the inside of the warming shelter, which will utilize the Lowry room, lobby area and the two meetings rooms that are near the entrance of the former library. The main circulation area won't be accessible for the shelter, but since the Lowry room is the largest it will be used as the sleep room.

Capacity is at 50, Evans said. They will have trained Continuum of Care partners in the shelter that will access those who enter for their needs and to get them housing assistance, which Evans said is the ultimate goal.

"They are coming into a shelter for a reason, because they are unsheltered. Odds are we are going to know everyone of these individuals coming in, but we want them assessed and we want to get them into a housing plan and case management," Evans said.

The committee also discussed signage for the shelter indicating the hours of operation, no responsibility for lost or stolen items and others. The committee plans to talk with Shawn O'Leary, Public Works director about signage, but they don't have a timeframe.

No pets will be allowed at the shelter, but the committee is still discussing ways to assist those who have pets in placing them or fostering them for a short period of time. The committee also discussed large bike locks for the shelter.

Through this warming shelter, Evans said Nov. 14 the committee's goal is to get people out of the elements, provide assessments, save lives and connect with them so they can create a housing option. They don't just want to provide a warming shelter, she said, they want to house them and help them be productive back into society.

The homeless resource expo assisted between 80 and 100 customers Nov. 21, said Bill Scanlon, Ward 6 council member. He was there and said it was well run and he saw most people leave with a smile on their faces.

Evans said a significant part of the expo was the ID event where they helped people get IDs, birth certificates and social security cards. She said 25 flu shots where given and all 75 goodies bags were given away.

Katie Standlee

366-3544

Follow me @katiestandlee

kstandlee@normantranscript.com

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