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2019 Point-In-Time Count Focuses On "Unsheltered" Population In OKC

A volunteer speaks with a man living in a tent on January 24, 2019.

Each year the Oklahoma City Homeless Alliance conducts a point-in-time count of people experiencing homelessness. It’s a census of those in shelters, transitional housing, meal sites and living on the street.

This year volunteers counted 1,273 homeless adults and children in Oklahoma City, an eight percent increase from 2018.

The Oklahoma City Homeless Alliance says the reason for this year's increase could have been cold weather, which caused more people to seek shelter and be counted. The count was conducted on January 24, 2019.

The 2019 figure represents a nearly 14 percent decrease in homelessness since 2009, but point-in-time counts are imperfect measurements. The city says the actual numbers may be up to five times higher, and the counting methodology has changed over the years. City planner Jerod Shadid says homeless youth are particularly difficult to count because they often couch surf, and many steer clear of volunteers, fearing they could be reported to authorities.

About 20 percent of those surveyed reported being chronically homeless, defined as homelessness for at least a year, either continuously or cumulatively within a period of three years. Most of the chronically homeless were unsheltered, meaning they were sleeping outside or in abandoned buildings.

The report shows the city has added 168 emergency shelter beds, 19 transitional housing beds and 35 permanent supportive housing beds in the last year, but about a third of those counted were unsheltered, a continuation of a trend that began in 2018.

“Last year we found that our unsheltered population had risen significantly,” said Shadid.

This year’s survey included new questions for them about what led to their loss of housing.

“Mental health and substance abuse were mentioned, but the main two factors that people brought up by far were unemployment and lack of transportation,” explained the Alliance’s Meghan Mueller. Another interesting finding was that 75 percent of those who were unsheltered reported involvement in the criminal justice system.

The results of the 2019 point-in-time count were presented to the public on June 4 at the Tower Theatre. Oklahoma City Mayor David Holt spoke. During his remarks Holt hinted he would like to see the city invest in homeless services through MAPS4.

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