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‘One-stop shop’


WestTown Resource Center aims to provide the homeless and low-income population with a new model of social service.

Brendan Hoover August 17th, 2011

Extreme weather is just one of many obstacles facing most of the local homeless population. Others include crushing poverty, substance abuse, mental health issues, unemployment, legal issues, domestic violence, chronic medical conditions and more.

“It’s never one thing. It’s 20 different things, and there is no single agency that is able to address all those issues,” said Dan Straughan (pictured), executive director for the Homeless Alliance. The nonprofit organization is dedicated to reducing and preventing homelessness in Oklahoma through collaboration with government, faith-based and nonprofit service providers, city government and local businesses.

The organization’s latest project, WestTown Resource Center, located at 1729 N.W. 3rd St., is a $6.3 million facility spanning an entire city block that aims to become a “one-stop shop” for social services with multiple agencies and a day shelter located on site.

According to Jane Ferrell, urban redevelopment specialist for Oklahoma City’s planning department, the capital project received $4.3 million in stimulus funds through the state Department of Commerce and another $550,824 in stimulus funds through the city. The Inasmuch Foundation also provided private funding for construction.

The 17,000-square-foot resource center opened in May, and the 12,000-square-foot day shelter is expected to open in mid-August. The entire campus is not open yet; construction is wrapping up and a grand opening is set for Sept. 8.

All in one place
Lack of transportation is one of the top barriers keeping people from ending their homelessness, Straughan said when the project broke ground in February.

“Low-income and homeless individuals and families will have many of the services they need under one roof, greatly reducing the barriers to these services,” he said.

The resource center and day shelter were built in two old warehouses, renovated in an environmentally friendly manner. The resource center will feature a pharmacy, office space, classrooms, a computer lab, a nicely appointed lobby and a play area for children. The day shelter — planned with help from Oklahoma City’s eight overnight homeless shelters — features a commercial-grade kitchen, showers, storage, offices, common areas and quiet rooms. Operated by local nonprofit organization City Care, the day shelter can also serve as a disaster relief shelter.

Both buildings contain geothermal HVAC systems donated by a local business. Fencing surrounding the campus will be constructed out of 6-foot-tall corrugated steel panels that have been decorated by local professional artists, students, corporate sponsors and homeless people.

The types of services planned for the campus include a health clinic, employment training, drug and alcohol counseling, housing assistance, family support, homeless prevention, government benefits programs and other vital services. A mobile medical and dental facility is also planned.

In all, 10 agencies are currently on-site, and seven more have committed to joining the team. Straughan said he hoped to add five more agencies by year’s end.

Providing the homeless with resources all in one place is “cheaper, more efficient and with way better outcomes,” Straughan said.

New model of service
Patrons of WestTown Resource Center are served by a new model called “coordinated case management.” New clients fill out a single intake form and are seen by one case manager, who has the combined resources of all the agencies at his or her disposal. Clients are assigned “housing plans,” which they are expected to sustain over time through continuing education and counseling.

“In the old model, you’d go from agency to agency all over town trying to get services to help you,” Straughan said. “You’d be making your own appointments, and those case managers might not even know about one another, much less be working together.”

It sounds simple, but coordinating nonprofit and government agencies can be a bureaucratic mess. Different funding sources require different data collection from respective clients. The consolidated intake form that WestTown Resource Center uses had to be whittled down from 28 pages to a more manageable size.

“We’ve been using it for two years, and it’s worked beautifully,” Straughan said.

Although other major American cities have consolidated resource centers, nowhere else are the services so consolidated. The program is being researched for possible national expansion, Straughan said.

Cost of homelessness
According to an Oklahoma City “point-in-time” count conducted in January, the total number of homeless individuals and families was 1,221, up from a year ago, but down slightly from 2009.

“What we’re seeing is a change in the homeless population. It’s not always just individuals. It’s becoming more families. That is a disturbing trend, but it also fits with the state of the economy and people losing their housing,” Ferrell said.

Point-in-time counts are merely snapshots of the homeless population on a given day. Estimates show that a community’s annual number of homeless can be four to five times its one-night census.

A study conducted by Oklahoma City between April 1, 2009, and March 31, 2010, showed the total spent on homelessness during that time was $28.75 million.

“One of our highest costs per individual or family relates to emergency services, (such as) calling the ambulance to come pick you up and take you to the hospital to see the doctor for the flu,” Ferrell said. “The cost of that is just incredible. If we could cut that cost alone, we would save the city several million dollars.”

The cost to provide the homeless with social services is far less than allowing them to live alone on the streets, Straughan said.

“Our goal with these families is to provide them supportive services so that in 30, 90 or 180 days they will be back on their own two feet,” he said.

Click here to download Oklahoma City's 2011 Point in Time study.

Click here to download the official Oklahoma City report on the cost of homelessness.

Photo by Brendan Hoover

 
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