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Unsheltered homeless population grows 50 percent in OKC metro

KOKH

Attempts at a long-term solution for homelessness in the metro are showing some negative side effects, according to the Homeless Alliance in Oklahoma City.

There are seven homeless shelters in the metro but all of them are trying to find permanent housing and solutions for people instead of just offering them a place to stay. The problem is, the Alliance said, some chose not to, or are unable to commit to the programs available, which means they're stuck on the streets.

"This year we've seen about a fifty percent increase in the number of unsheltered," Dan Straughan, the director of the Homeless Alliance said.

Unsheltered homelessness simply means someone is not staying at a shelter or in transitional housing.

"Our shelters have become much more program focused, rather than the old, sort of traditional 'two hots and a cot' is what we used to call it. For a homeless shelter, hardly anyone is doing that anymore."

Straughan said people who are struggling with mental illness or addiction may not be able to stay in any of the shelters.

"They're on the street, they're under bridges, they're in camp sights scattered all over the city."

Because of those shelters focusing more on programming, the overall homeless population has actually gone down.

"Population went up 30 percent, poverty went up 30 percent, homelessness went down 40 percent. So there are a lot of people working hard, and successfully, to reduce our numbers."

Straughan called the surge in unsheltered homelessness a temporary blip caused by growing pains from this new direction the shelters are headed.

"We got caught off guard with the number of unsheltered. But man, this is a generous, thoughtful community, and we will get on top of that."

There are several groups working to create a harm reduction shelter. It would work as an alternative to an overnight shelter for people who can’t, or don't want to stay there.

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