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Unhoused people in Oklahoma County jail counted for first time ever

The Oklahoma County Jail
Robby Korth
The Oklahoma County Jail

Oklahoma City’s 2024 Point in Time survey was published on May 31. It’s an annual count of people living on the streets, in shelters, and in transitional housing on one night in January. This year, 1,838 people were counted, around 400 more than last year.

However, the count misses a lot of people, including those in emergency rooms, people staying with friends or family and those who are incarcerated. This year, for the first time, the Homeless Alliance and Open Justice Oklahoma decided to fill in some of those gaps and see how many unhoused people were being overlooked in the county jail.

First reported by The Curbside Chronicle, a data analysis by Andrew Bell of Open Justice Oklahoma found that more than 22% of the roughly 1,200 jail detainees were unhoused. That’s compared to the roughly 0.2% of the Oklahoma City population that was found to be unhoused during this year’s Point in Time count.

People experiencing homelessness are far more likely to have run-ins with the legal system than those with stable housing. For people experiencing homelessness, daily activities like using the bathroom, drinking alcohol and, starting Nov. 1, sleeping on state property are criminalized.

Dan Straughan recently retired as director of the Homeless Alliance and spearheaded the count effort at the Oklahoma County Detention Center.

Straughan said this data is crucial for organizations that work with the homeless community, like the Homeless Alliance. The plan is to conduct the jail survey again next year, and it will be important to keep an eye on trends.

“If we keep going at this rate, the new jail administrator is going to be able to say she runs the largest homeless shelter in the state,” he said. “And that is not what the jail is for. We know there are better ways to address homelessness than by criminalizing it.”

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Cait Kelley is a summer intern at KOSU through the Scripps Howard Fund summer internship program.
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