OKLAHOMA CITY — During the predawn hours early next week, about 100 volunteers will begin surveying homeless camps around the city to find the most vulnerable individuals and help them get off the streets.
The effort is part of a nationwide push called 100,000 Homes, a campaign to move the homeless into housing and then support them with services that help keep them under a roof.
"This is the first thing Oklahoma City has done like this," said Dan Straughan, executive director of the Homeless Alliance, the nonprofit group organizing the campaign locally. "City after city ... has adopted this model for their chronically homeless, and they are seeing savings across the board."
There are more than 1,300 homeless individuals in Oklahoma City, according to recent counts. About 230 are chronically homeless, which means they've lived on the streets at least a year or four times in the past three years.
Most of the chronically homeless have some sort of mental or substance abuse problem, and many have health issues.
Straughan said the chronically homeless, while a small part of the overall homeless population, account for about 60 percent of the estimated $28 million spent on homelessness in Oklahoma City each year.
Much of that cost is incurred in emergency rooms, jails, detox centers and shelters, he said.
Unlike other programs and efforts that help the homeless get sober or mentally stable before moving into a home, the 100,000 Homes push moves them into a home first.
"Saying you need to be sober for 90 days before you get housing isn't going to happen with most of these people," he said. "Same thing for mental illness. If you're living under a bridge you're never going to get stable on your mental health meds."
He said the first step must be getting them into a stable home environment.
Some 40 nonprofit, government and religious organizations are helping with the endeavor, with the goal of moving about seven people into housing each month.
Jonathan Roberts, with Be the Change, another nonprofit helping with the effort, is often on the streets, talking to the homeless who live in camps scattered throughout the city. For many, getting off the streets is a matter of life and death.
"This is about someone's health and safety," Roberts said. "People who are homeless face dangers most of us don't, and we have a moral and ethical duty to step in and help people when they can't do it for themselves."
None of the homeless he meets wants to stay on the streets.
"I've yet to meet someone who says this is what they dreamed of as a child," he said. "Something got them to this point, and most are receptive to help and want to be clean and dry and have a door that locks."
Oklahoma City is the 102nd city to join the national 100,000 Homes campaign. Tulsa is also a part of the effort.
Volunteers will canvass the city Monday through Wednesday to survey and document the homeless. Straughan said that will give workers the ability to triage and prioritize the most vulnerable individuals before participating organizations move them into housing.
Individuals will be matched with appropriate housing programs, and homes and apartments for them will be located across the city. Those with health conditions will be matched with groups that provide housing for people with certain health conditions. Homeless veterans will be matched with veterans' housing programs, and those who don't fit a certain program will be housed using Section 8 vouchers.
Community help is needed to provide move-in packages for people who will be placed in housing. Packages will cover the costs of utility deposits and provide common household items such as towels, bedding and household supplies.