A one-night count of Oklahoma City’s homeless population released Thursday indicated a 25 percent decrease from last year, a figure a local advocate for the homeless said was unexpected given the economic recession.
The “Point in Time” homeless survey, conducted during a 24-hour period in late January, found 1,081 homeless people in the city. That’s down from 1,475 last year.
The drop marks the first time in seven years that there was a significant decrease in homelessness in the state’s largest city, said Dan Straughan, the executive director of the Oklahoma City Homeless Alliance. Local advocates for the homeless had expected the number to rise, Straughan said, especially after learning of survey results from other major cities like New York, which saw its street homeless population increase to 3,111 people — 783 more than last year.
“This is coming at a time when other cities across the country are seeing double-digit increases in their homeless population due to the recession,” he said. “The recession didn’t hit us as hard as it did in other cities, but it hit. But we were able as a community to get out in front of it a little bit.”
The federal Department of Housing and Urban Development requires cities that receive funding from the agency to conduct homeless surveys.
Straughan credited Oklahoma City’s decline in homelessness to a coordinated effort by local homeless service providers and shelters and city officials. He said nearly 200 permanent supportive housing units have been created in Oklahoma City during the past three years, a number he called significant for such a city.
Officials estimate a city’s number of homeless is about four to five times higher than a count gathered during a one-night census. That would indicate there are about 4,325 to 5,405 homeless people in Oklahoma City, which has a population of about 550,000.
Straughan said the Jan. 27 ice storm that hit the city could have skewed the count lower because those who might have been on the streets may have found shelter. But he said that factor alone wouldn’t have reduced the count so dramatically.
“Some of the decrease is just the result of really bad weather, but a significant portion of it is new programs focused on prevention and housing,” he said.
The annual homeless count, conducted this year over Jan. 27 and 28, is coordinated by the Homeless Alliance, the Coalition for the Needy and city officials.
Teams of volunteers conduct the count by visiting homeless shelters, hot meal programs and encampments across the city. People without homes who temporarily stay with family or friends aren’t included in the count.