NORMAN — As Norman continues to grapple with some of the coldest temperatures since 1905, local organizations and members of the community have been working together to provide supplies, donations and shelter to support the city’s homeless.
Norman’s Salvation Army has extended its overnight shelter operations from its usual 4:30 p.m. to 8 a.m. to 24 hours in order to provide homeless community members with a place to shelter and seek warmth as the city continues to face subzero temperatures.
“This is a disaster for our community right now and we’re focused on how to keep people safe, warm and alive during this incredibly cold weather,” said Leona Chapman, the Salvation Army of Cleveland County’s director of social services.
Chapman said that the organization has met an outpouring of support from the community in the form of supply donations and financial support, but she said they are in special need of consumable items such as paper plates, clamshells, Styrofoam cups, coffee, laundry detergent and bottled water.
As the organization extends its operating hours, she also said that any donations to help support the increased costs are also welcome.
Local nonprofit Food and Shelter has kept its doors open 24/7 since last Monday to allow the city’s homeless access to warmth, meals and showers. Unhoused Norman residents are also able to obtain blankets, coats, sleeping bags and other supplies to ensure they can keep warm if they choose to stay outside at campsites or other locations.
“If they are going to be outside, they’re at least going to have the things they need to survive the extreme temperatures,” said April Heiple, executive director of Food and Shelter.
As for donating supplies, Heiple said that Food and Shelter was overwhelmed with the outpouring of support and donations from the community. The organization put out a call for coats, blankets, sleeping bags and similar supplies, and within two days had a room full of items.
“We are stocked and blessed with more than enough to make sure those who come to us have all that they need,” Heiple said. “That, again, is a testament to this amazing community that cares deeply for people regardless of circumstances.”
Food and Shelter received funding from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act earlier this year to help with initiatives like this, but Heiple said that amount was insufficient for the level at which the organization is currently operating. Financial donations from community members have been vital to helping the organization continue to house the homeless, she said.
Along with providing supplies to those who choose to remain outside of shelters, Heiple said staff and volunteers had been “pounding the pavement” to get individuals out of the cold and into some kind of shelter.
“If for some reason they don’t, or are unable to spend the night in the shelter, we have been working to put people in hotel rooms,” Heiple said.
Food and Shelter has placed more than 60 homeless individuals in hotel rooms since the onset of the recent cold snap, and has a partnership with several local hotels to help house the homeless and even some of their companion animals. Once housed, Heiple said the homeless individuals are also provided with groceries that include food and laundry detergent.
Norman’s Social Injustice League has partnered with Food and Shelter to help in these efforts, working to gather supplies and financial donations while helping escort homeless community members to shelters and hotels.
Brandi Studley, Social Injustice League co-founder and recently-elected Ward 1 councilmember, said she and multiple volunteers had been going out to grocery stores across the city each day to gather supplies.
As the homeless have little to no refrigerator space available in hotels, Studley said donations of foods like bread, cereal, canned foods, foods in packets and similar items are especially welcome. She said the organization is continuing to accept items like gloves, blankets, coats, sleeping bags, hats and similar items.
The Social Injustice League is also working to put homeless individuals in contact with various nonprofit services that might be able to help their situation or provide them with specific support, Studley said.
With the costly nature of these efforts, Studley said the organization is already running low on funding, and welcomes any financial donations that would help place homeless individuals in hotels.
Among those in the community that have contributed financially to those efforts include local political activism group Unite Norman, which Studley said contributed $1,200 to helping with efforts to get individuals into hotels.
“Everyone in the community is really coming together regardless of politics or what side of issues people are on, and that has shown me that this city is capable of putting differences aside and coming together over the things that truly matter,” Studley said.
While not a nonprofit, and instead a group created in response to concerns over cuts to proposed increases in Norman’s police budget, Unite Norman has also been active in calling on its supporters and the Norman community to donate supplies and financial support, according to Unite Norman co-founder Sassan Moghadam.
Moghadam said within a day and a half, the organization had gathered enough supplies to make a donation to the Salvation Army.
“While we’re not geared as an organization to regularly address those needs, we are ready and willing to support organizations in the community dedicated to these causes and to help our friends stay warm,” Moghadam said. “We continue to try and make Norman a better place, whether politically or through providing for needs.”
Donations for the Salvation Army can be dropped off between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday at its Social Services Office at 1124 N. Porter Ave. For Food and Shelter, donations can be dropped off 8 a.m. and noon and from noon to 4 p.m. at 201 Reed Ave. Both organizations are charitable organizations and partner agencies of United Way.
Supplies can be donated to the Social Injustice League via its Facebook page, where those interested can schedule a drop off. Financial donations can be made via Venmo to @socialinjusticeleague or through Cash App at $SocialinjusticeLON.
For donations and supplies for Unite Norman’s efforts, drop offs can be made from 1:30-5:30 p.m. 480 24th Ave. NW, Suite 100.