The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

Local and State News

February 13, 2012

Homeless shelters full Sunday prior to storm; demand high

ENID — Sunday night’s snowstorm and frigid temperatures posed perhaps the first serious threat this winter to Enid’s homeless residents.

Capt. John Dancer of Salvation Army of Enid reported his shelter filled to capacity Sunday afternoon in anticipation of the storm.

“Our men’s shelter has not been full lately, but it was full last night in anticipation of the weather,” Dancer said. “It was good we were able to open our doors to them and give them a place outside of the cold.”

Dancer said the shelter houses a maximum of 12 men. Cots are available to house additional men, though the extra beds were not needed Sunday night.

The Salvation Army’s women’s shelter, which houses women and children in small apartments, consistently stays full. Dancer said it usually has a combination of about 10 women and children.

He would like to make improvements to both the men’s and women’s shelter, but funds currently aren’t available for renovation.

“We would love to have a place that was more convenient for everyone and have more room,” Dancer said, “but that would take more money.”

Dancer said he soon will begin an assessment process he hopes will lead to funding for shelter improvements.  But, even the assessment process, which measures the needs of the area homeless population, requires more money.

“You have to have companies come in and assess the need,” Dancer said, “and each of those assessments cost about $5,000.”

For now, Dancer and Salvation Army staff will continue to serve the local homeless population, and hope demand doesn’t grow to surpass available shelter services.

But, demand for services to the homeless extends beyond those who seek refuge in the shelter.

Hope Outreach’s Community Care and Homeless Ministry runs a homeless day center at 815 W. Maine, offering a place to get out of the weather during the day, do a load of laundry or take a shower.

The center serves functionally homeless residents, who may be staying with a friend or even have their own residence but not access to utilities during the day, and homeless residents, some of whom live in tents rather than seek shelter services.

Hope Outreach Executive Director Matt Lohman said demand for the center’s services has risen in the past two weeks as unusually warm weather has yielded to more seasonable winter temperatures.

“We have been seeing a lot of people come in with the cold weather lately, once it turned cold, but luckily we’ve only had a couple of weeks of that,” Lohman said. “Usually, they’ll come here in the mornings, especially if they’re living in tents. They’ll come in here and get a hot cup of coffee, warm up and kind of hang out.”

Lohman said demand at the day center did not increase Monday, likely because Sunday night’s snowstorm was followed by above-freezing temperatures on Monday.

In spite of this winter’s warmer-than-usual temperatures, demand has not decreased for charitable help with utilities among low-income residents at risk of becoming homeless.

Community Development Support Association housing coordinator Mike Biggers said the warmer weather “has not affected demand at all” for utility assistance programs.

CDSA offers low-income families help with their utility costs through federal stimulus and grant funding.

“We still have the same amount of demand that we have had in years past ... it just doesn’t seem that it has slacked off any,” Biggers said. “Last year we had all that bitter cold weather, and this summer we had all that heat, but this winter it seems the same number of people are calling for help.”

Biggers said demand has remained steady, both in the number of households requesting help and in the amount of money needed to meet the need.

Many of the residents benefiting from the program might otherwise end up on the street.

“If you don’t have utilities, some landlords are going to kick you out of the house,” Biggers said. “It could be putting them homeless, as could inability to pay the rent.”

CDSA recently completed a census of Enid’s homeless population. CDSA numbers will be compiled with other nonprofits’ figures to come up with a total assessment of homeless and functionally homeless need in the county.

Biggers said just from CDSA’s portion of the survey, it appears “the number has gone up from last year.”

He said last year’s assessment identified nearly 40 homeless people living in Enid, “and it looks like we’ll have more this year.”

“It’s kind of eye-opening ... you wouldn’t think of Enid having that many homeless,” Biggers said. “But, it seems like there’s going to be more.”

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