Norman steps closer to warming shelter location

Kyle Phillips / The Transcript

Library patrons look for books Sept. 3 at the Norman Public Library Central. The old library central location on Webster Avenue might be the location for the city's warming shelter.

In the coldest months of the year the city will potentially have a warming shelter in the old central library on Webster Avenue.

The opening date could be on or before Dec. 1, Michelle Evans, the city's homeless program coordinator, said. The city's committee to address homelessness discussed the proposed location on Tuesday, but Evans said nothing is finalized. She expects a final proposal by Tuesday, Nov. 19.

A warming shelter is similar to a homeless shelter, but offers temporary refuge for those trying to stay out of the cold weather.

"We are trying to work this as quickly as possible, but when you're dealing with so many moving targets, security, funding, supplies, it becomes really difficult to answer these questions just now when we're not quite sure," Evans said. "But we are much closer this week as opposed to last week, so we are much more positive as far as getting this off the ground."

This shelter would be one of the first qualified warming shelters in Norman, Evans said.

There was one at Food and Shelter, but she said funds are now being allocated to something else so the shelter won't open this year. Salvation Army is a shelter already, and during cold days they offer extra beds.

"We saw the need and the gap in the community for our unsheltered population and that is where the whole Continuum of Care and the city leadership came together to find the solution. And this is the solution that we have come up with," Evans said.

When the warming shelter goes online, Evans said, they will use the Lowry room, lobby area and the two meeting rooms that are near the entrance. The Lowry room is the largest room in the former library and would be the sleep room, she said, but the main circulation area of the library won't be accessible for the shelter.

One of the smaller rooms will likely be used for females, she said, and the other would be used to store belongings. After discussion, she said, the committee decided to allow one bag per person.

"That's a location that our population is familiar with, we all know that they utilize the library on a regular basis," Evans said. "It's a safe place for many of them and it's centrally located."

The committee on Tuesday discussed the use of a private security firm, staffing needs other than security, bedding and hygiene needs, janitorial, and the storage of belongings. Evans said they are awaiting a fire marshal inspection and are looking at storage options outside as well for items such as bikes or carts.

Evans said the most current numbers for unsheltered individuals that have been identified throughout Norman is 347 and at-risk individuals are an additional 61. These numbers represent the people that 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.

"We are doing our best to make this shelter as low barrier as possible for as many to enter, that is our goal," Evans said. "We want as many people eligible to come out of the elements and seek shelter."

A lot of things are being taken into consideration right now, she said, because there are a lot local and community partners. There are a lot of people in surrounding municipalities that have run shelters, and Evans said they are looking to them for some expertise on those considerations.

Finances are still an uncertainty, Evans said, but an estimate and explanation of where the funds will come from is being worked up into the final proposal.

"The best I can say is we are frantically behind the scenes working on all of these details and ensuring that the city manager, the council members and other leadership are all on the same page," Evans said.

Through this warming shelter, Evans said 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 risk of deaths climbs during the cold weather months, Evans said and people are more apt to stay outside, because there's no where to go inside. It's literally about saving lives, she said.

"I would like to see it happen, and I think it could happen if we have the place and the finances, but I think it's something that Norman really needs because of our homeless population and these people need to be taken care of," Sandy Duncan, Mission Norman office manager, said in reference to the warming shelter.

Duncan has worked with the homeless through the City of Norman, and with the fierce winter, she said, people need a building to go to that's warm, because this isn't just about adults it's about children too.

"We need to get these children out of this cold," Duncan said.

There's a campaign for coats, blankets, gloves and other warming supplies at Mission Norman that is running forever or at least throughout the winter, Duncan said. Residents can bring new or used items to Mission Norman, which is a local food pantry, at 2525 E. Lindsey and they will get them to those in need, she said.

Katie Standlee

366-3544

Follow me @katiestandlee

kstandlee@normantranscript.com

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