An idea is being floated around town that Norman should build a $5 million permanent tent city for homeless individuals. I have serious reservations with this idea and lots of questions.

With this tent city, does Norman become the enabler of unsafe, unhealthy and inhumane living? Does it address mental health, substance abuse, affordable housing and the lack of living wage jobs? Does it divert political attention and scarce resources away from our ultimate goal and a lasting solution for homeless individuals: Permanent housing?

Is this just a feel good Band-Aid, taping over a much larger societal problem?

In my opinion, addiction, mental illness and rising rents don’t consider a permanent tent city as a permanent solution to homelessness. However, offering housing vouchers for regular apartments, building more affordable housing and investing in case workers and treatments are what homelessness sees as long-term solutions.

Do encampments solve the root problems of homelessness? Does herding people into a camp solve anything?

The department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has an opinion: TENTS ARE SUBSTANDARD HOUSING, and cities' efforts should be geared to move people from substandard housing into permanent, supportive housing.

It’s called the HOUSING FIRST MODEL.

HOUSING FIRST is used to describe a plan that does not require a homeless individual to have all of their issues resolved before being offered a housing unit. This creates the “lowest possible barrier to enter” model in practice today. Norman currently subscribes to the HOUSING FIRST MODEL.

Norman’s Investment Partnerships Tenant Based Rental Assistance Program, referred to as TBRA, provides housing assistance for up to 24 months while a permanent supportive housing or Section 8 housing option is obtained.

The good news is Norman currently has no waiting list for Section 8 housing, and has vouchers available for any homeless individual seeking housing. We can move any willing individual out of homelessness today.

In addition, building a permanent tent city with federal money is an absolute conflict with the programs authorized by HUD.

HUD gives Norman over $1 million a year to combat the challenges of homelessness, to move people from tents to permanent housing solutions.

Is building a permanent tent city in our best interests when HUD is telling us not to do it?

Norman is in the middle of a study to develop a strategic plan to address homelessness. Let’s not make a knee-jerk decision. Let’s wait for the studies' completion. Let’s let the experts speak before we jump to any conclusions on spending $5 million.

Joe Carter



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