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Oklahoma City’s Homeless Alliance director reflects on 20 years at nonprofit

Homeless Alliance Executive Director Dan Straughan is retiring after 20 years at the nonprofit.
Nathan Poppe
Curbside Chronicle
Homeless Alliance Executive Director Dan Straughan is retiring after 20 years at the nonprofit.

After 20 years leading Oklahoma City’s Homeless Alliance, Executive Director Dan Straughan is retiring.

The nonprofit executive’s career has spanned a lot of change. He’s been involved in massive construction projects to create the WestTown Homeless Resource Campus, a day shelter and a winter shelter for people experiencing homelessness. Through that work, he’s overseen massive nonprofit collaborations that have reshaped how Oklahoma City has addressed homelessness.

Before that he worked as a Federal Reserve Bank manager in Oklahoma City and at the United Way of Central Oklahoma.

Straughan sat down in the KOSU studios to reflect on how his career evolved with Curbside Chronicle Editor-in-Chief Nathan Poppe.

Nathan Poppe, Curbside Chronicle: How on Earth does somebody work at the Federal Reserve and then wind up creating an agency dedicated to ending homelessness?

Dan Straughan, Homeless Alliance: Honestly, you know, it was the bombing. I really loved the Fed. I loved my job. I loved the people I worked with. But the bombing made me and a lot of other people kind of reassess what you want to do with your life. And, you know, I came to the conclusion that, you know, I wanted to at least do my little part of making Oklahoma City better. I also recognize that I'm not the kind of person who could sit with a child and help them understand that it's still possible to trust after their trust has been betrayed by someone close to them. I just I do not have those skills. You know, what I can do is run a small business and try to convince people to work more effectively together. And so that's where I tried to find a way to make it possible for people like that to have a place that they could work and be effective and do those jobs that I can't do.

Poppe: And why was homelessness, an issue that you wanted to address specifically?

Straughan: You know, I mean, it wasn't really me. It was, a group of community leader types that just had come to the conclusion that there had to be a better way to do homelessness than what we were doing in the early 2000s, in the late 90s, but were also aware that they they didn't know what the better way was. And so they asked me to help them figure that part out. And we went to some cities that had a reputation for being smart about homelessness. We went to Phoenix and we went to Philadelphia and we went to Columbus, Ohio, and all three of them had more or less successful systems, but none of them had a system that you could just pick up in whole cloth and drop them in Oklahoma City and have it work. Then we came back here and we hired a consultant. She came back to us with really clear direction, but it was also really clear that an ad hoc group of volunteers getting together once a month to just talk about those things, weren't going to be able to make them happen. And so that group decided to incorporate as, the Homeless Alliance. And I became our first employee. I will say that there was just a huge amount of naivety on all of our parts, and I honestly thought, I honestly thought we should be able to knock this out in 2 or 3 years. It turned out it was way more complicated than I thought.

Poppe: What's a milestone or accomplishment that you are especially proud of?

Straughan: Well, certainly bringing Housing First to the community.

Poppe: And that's exactly what it sounds like. That means addressing homelessness by starting off with....

Straughan: Starting off with the housing, because you're just way more likely to be successful addressing addiction or mental illness or physical illness or developmental disability while you're safely and securely housed than you are when you're on the street.

Poppe: I keep hearing that, with a lot of these accomplishments and things that you've set out to do, you really have had to not only just talk about it, you've had to step up and get a lot of people on board on these projects.

Straughan: Yeah. You know, one of the things about Oklahoma City, because we are a disaster-prone city. We had the bombing and the wildfires and the May 3rd tornadoes. It has taught us as a community that certainly no single agency and even no single sector can step up to those kinds of disasters. And so it sounds awful, but we've been fortunate to have those disasters to teach us that lesson.

Meghan Mueller will be the organization’s new leader. She starts at the end of the week. Straughan will stay on temporarily to work in Homeless Alliance fundraising.

It should be noted that Curbside Chonicle is a product of the Homeless Alliance.

This story was produced in collaboration by KOSU and Curbside Chronicle. KOSU's Robby Korth and Matthew Viriyapah edited the audio.

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Robby Korth joined KOSU as its news director in November 2022.
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