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Collaborating to end homelessness

A bulletin from The Oklahoman’s Washington Bureau appeared under the headline “Federal report details duplication’” on the front page of the March 2 paper.  The bulletin stated that nationally, “The GAO found 20 different homeless programs at seven agencies, costing $2.9 billion a [sic] year.”  That’s not news to the people who work with the homeless in our community.  Homelessness is like a symptom that can have lots of different causes; domestic violence, mental illness, addiction, lack of job skills, illiteracy, and the list goes on.  Often, two or more of these are present in a single individual or family.  Just as a sick person may require several specialists for treatment, the homeless often need to access multiple services to overcome their barriers to housing. 

While 20 homeless programs at seven federal agencies may dismay Washington bureaucrats and bewilder people just looking for help, here in Oklahoma City we’re creating a model for collaboration that will help eliminate duplication and get the homeless the services they need to get back on their feet.  The WestTown Homeless Services Campus will open later this year in Oklahoma City. The first of its kind in Oklahoma, the campus will have a day shelter and a resource center, a “one-stop-shop” for social services with multiple agencies co-located on site.

 Just building the campus required an artful and creative blending of municipal, state, federal and private funding – a byzantine process that was led by City Council members, the City Manager, and the extraordinary staff in the City Planning Department.

 On the resource center portion of the campus, many of the nonprofit, faith-based and government agencies working with the homeless and those at-risk of homelessness will blend their talents and diverse funding sources to ensure our neighbors don’t get lost in the system.

 Get ready for some alphabet soup.

 At the resource center, the YWCA, which gets federal funds from DOJ to assist people who are homeless as a result of domestic violence, will work together with NorthCare (federal homeless funds from SAMHSA), Healing Hands (federal funds from HHS), Positive Tomorrows (federal funds from DOE), TEEM (federal funds from DOL), NSO (federal funds from HUD), and the Homeless Alliance (federal funds from ARRA) to ensure a homeless family with children gets the medical care, appropriate mental health services, educational support, job training and placement services, and housing they need to get back on their feet.  We also hope to have staff from DHS, SSA, the IRS and the VA.  We’re working with MetroTransit (federal funds from DOT) to make sure people can get to and from the campus.

 CityCare (federal funds from HUD) will be operating the day shelter portion of the WestTown campus and working with the VA, NorthCare, Red Rock, the Metropolitan Library System and others to make sure our homeless have not only a safe place to be during the day, but access to the mental health, substance abuse, medical, housing and other services they need.

 These are only a few of the agencies that will be providing services at the WestTown campus.  And their federal funding is only a portion of their budgets.  All except the government agencies are also financially supported by local foundations, our incredibly generous business community, faith groups, and individuals.

 And I haven’t even mentioned the extraordinary partnership between the Baptist Medical/Dental Fellowship, Good Shepherd Ministries, Healing Hands, the Oklahoma County Pharmacy and Butterfield Memorial Foundation to provide a mobile medical/dental clinic that will serve clients on the campus, the neighborhood, and be available to go to disaster sites in our state.

 Is having 20 different homeless programs at seven federal agencies complicated and cumbersome?  Maybe.  But here in Oklahoma City we’re finding a way to make it work.

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