The Homeless Alliance

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Temporary offices of the Homeless Alliance as the WestTown campus at 1729 NW 3rd on the corner of 3rd and Virginia.
The master plan for the westown campus shows the resource center (top) and the day shelter (bottom). Potential future expansion area seen at right.
Wall studs going up inside the resource center at NW 4th and Virginia.
North wall of the resource center at 4th Street looking west. The resource center will house case managers from many of the agencies working with the homeless and people at risk.
The entire WestTown campus will be heated and cooled with geothermal energy. This will keep utility bills low for years to come. The plan requires drilling twenty-eight 350-foot-deep geothermal wells all around the building.

Working to end homelessness in our community

By Robbie Robertson

At NW 3rd Street and Virginia Avenue, in downtown Oklahoma City, sits a double-wide trailer. It is the current residence of the Homeless Alliance, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to improving the system of care for the homeless. The employees in the double-wide call their home “the wobbly box.” Every time the construction around them kicks into gear, the trailer rocks like it is the end of the world.

Next month, the Homeless Alliance will move out of its double-wide, and into the brand new WestTown Resource Center. Goodbye “wobbly box,” and hello to fewer distractions to getting on with the work of helping the homeless in Oklahoma City.

By definition of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Homeless is an individual or family who lacks a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence, and seeks shelter in places not meant for habitation such as cars, camps, streets, and abandoned buildings. Homelessness is not a new challenge to our city. But now an effort to find a better way to help our homeless is picking up steam through the efforts of the Homeless Alliance, with support from government agencies, non-profit and faith based organizations.

In 2004, a group of community leaders got together and decided there had to be a better way to address the homeless situation in Oklahoma City. The Homeless Alliance was formed and Dan Straughan became Executive Director. Coming from the banking industry, Straughan said, “I got to a point in my life I was ready to try and do something different. I’d been doing some volunteer work and when the opportunity presented itself, I took it.”

The purpose of the Alliance is not only to end homelessness by providing affordable housing to those who need it, but also to prevent homelessness by improving the services needed by the homeless population.

Straughan explained, “Homelessness is a symptom of numerous factors such as unemployment, lack of education, lack of transportation, drug abuse, physical abuse, or physical disability, to name a few.” In the past five years, the fastest growing demographic of the homeless population is the family with children. The situation improved in 2010, but is still of major concern. Let’s look at a typical scenario for how a family becomes homeless. Let’s talk about the fictional Jones family. Bill Jones has a job and supports his wife and two children. Even though the Jones’ live from paycheck to paycheck, they are thankful Bill is working. All of a sudden the car breaks down and there is no money to get it fixed. Bill can’t get to work and ends up losing his job. Because he has no job, Bill can’t pay the rent. When the rent doesn’t get paid, the Jones’ get evicted from their apartment and they become homeless. Unfortunately, there are many families in our city facing this dilemma everyday.

The Jones family, like so many others, has to find a way to deal with some rotten luck. They need a hand-up, not a hand-out. The Homeless Alliance is trying to look at homelessness from the community perspective. “We need to find a way for agencies to work together. That’s how the WestTown Resource Center came about,” said Straughan.

The WestTown Resource Center is a $5 million complex that consists of the Resource Center and a day shelter. The Resource Center brings together agencies that can provide services to the homeless, or those at-risk of being homeless, needed to get back on their feet and achieve some stability in their lives. It will be one-stop shopping.

The 17,000 square foot building provides 24 offices for government agencies such as Department of Human Services, Social Security Administration, Department of Rehabilitation Services, and Veterans’ Administration. The Resource Center also provides office space for non-profit agencies such as TEEM, Healing Hands, Infant Crisis Services, Legal Aid and Baptist Medical/Dental Fellowship.

Individuals and families utilizing the Resource Center will be assigned a service coordinator. This person will assist the client in creating a plan to get back into housing and access other services such as employment training, government benefit programs, medical and dental clinics, transportation assistance, legal, spiritual and financial counseling.

The Resource Center will have an indoor and outdoor play area, client computer stations and four teaming spaces, where multiple service coordinators can work with clients. There will be three classrooms used for workshops and client training. There will be a conference room and employee break room.

The Homeless Alliance is meeting the homeless problem head-on. They understand the problem. The WestTown Resource Center is part of the solution.

Along with the energy efficient Resource Center is a 15,000 square foot day shelter, capable of housing 400 people. Supervised day shelter services will reduce drug abuse and other high-risk behaviors. There are nine homeless shelters in Oklahoma City. They all serve different segments of the homeless population. Oklahoma City does not have a day shelter, and hasn’t had one since the REST facility closed in 1997. Having a day shelter will immediately reduce the number of homeless on our streets. The day shelter will serve breakfast and lunch. The client will find bathrooms, locker-rooms, and showers. There will be classrooms and case management offices. It will be a safe, warm, dry shelter for the day.

The Homeless Alliance is in hopes the collaboration of non-profit, faith-based, and government agencies will carry over to other collaborative efforts to address the homeless situation. Straughan said, “I would like people to know we have a problem and there are people who are working on it.”

You probably don’t have much reason to be driving around NW 3rd and Virginia. It’s not a great part of town.  But you ought to drive by anyway and take a look at a facility that is going to help people who actually need help.

For more information on the Homeless Alliance, click here: http://homelessalliance.org/

To learn more about how you can become  involved, call Dan Straughan at: 405-601-9677.

Robbie Robertson is an award winning television and radio sportscaster who has been in the Oklahoma City market for almost 40 years. Robbie is currently the television and radio spokesperson for the Bob Howard Automall. Robbie, and his wife Adrienne, do volunteer work for the Episcopal Diocese of Oklahoma and are active members of St. John’s Episcopal church.

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