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Vouch for it


The Homeless Alliance provides an alternative to spare change.

Greg Horton August 15th, 2012

When Shane Warren Speegle told an Oklahoma City police officer he made $60,000 last year by panhandling, the story quickly went viral thanks to The Huffington Post. Locally, KOCO Channel 5 broadcast the story, but with no way to verify Speegle’s income, it might be wise to take his claim with a dose of skepticism.

Dan Straughan
credit: Jordan Ensminger

“It’s incredibly unlikely that a panhandler could earn that much in a year,” said Dan Straughan, executive director of the metro’s Homeless Alliance.

For social services organizations, dubious stories like Speegle’s tend to ramp up public cynicism and make it harder for agencies to do their work.

“In our experience, about 20 percent of panhandlers are homeless,” Straughan said. “That doesn’t mean they aren’t needy, but giving them cash only enables them to support unhealthy behaviors.”

To help well-meaning Oklahomans, the Homeless Alliance distributes books of vouchers that contain five Metro Transit bus tickets. The tickets in the Real Change booklet can be used anywhere the buses run.

Straughan cautions that many panhandlers might be reluctant to take a book of vouchers, but metro residents should be firm in offering the booklet in lieu of cash.

If someone wants to purchase the booklets but not distribute them personally, the Homeless Alliance makes it possible for people to donate the booklets to social services agencies.

Each booklet is $5.

“That’s the cost to cover five bus tickets,” Straughan said. “I charge what Metro Transit charges me.”

In addition, the vouchers list addresses of metro shelters, including the Salvation Army, Grace Rescue Mission and the City Rescue Mission.

“We hope they use the vouchers to go to one of the agencies to get help,” Straughan said.

He said that all provide services to the homeless, but the Homeless Alliance has the fewest restrictions to eligibility.

WestTown, located at 1724 N.W. Fourth, is the Homeless Alliance’s base of operations in Oklahoma City. Straughan calls it the most comprehen sive homeless services center in Central Oklahoma. The campus is home to 16 separate agencies, including job training and placement, health care services, legal aid, substance abuse counseling, children’s services and HIV testing.

Shane Warren Speegle

The campus also provides food, showers, computer access, a hair salon and shelter to thousands of clients each month. From January through June of this year, WestTown has provided more than 40,000 meals.

Summer brings out panhandlers in larger numbers, and Straughan said WestTown and other shelters provide relief from the oppressive heat.

The booklets can be ordered at homelessalliance.org.

 
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