by Dan Straughan
With more than 1,200 homeless on any given night in Oklahoma City and thousands more "couch" homeless families and children, a means to help has become a reality. In September 2011, the Homeless Alliance opened the WestTown Homeless Resource Campus.
The campus, an entire city block, includes a 17,000 square foot resource center providing office space for case managers from more than 20 government, faith-based and nonprofit agencies working with the homeless. The types of services provided by the agencies in the resource center include drug and mental health counseling, housing assistance, employment training, job placement, legal assistance, domestic violence counseling, and other vital services often needed by homeless people. The resource center is already serving more than 100 homeless and at-risk families each month.
The campus also includes a 14,000 square foot day shelter for the homeless. The day shelter provides free breakfast and lunch, showers, haircuts, computer access, AA and NA classes, entertainment, a library, and access to outreach services by the Veterans Administration (VA) as well as private non-profit agencies working with the homeless who are mentally ill and substance abusers. The day shelter is operated by a local faith-based agency called CityCare.
Finally, the campus also includes a mobile medical/dental clinic jointly operated by the faith-based Baptist Medical-Dental Fellowship and Healing Hands, the federal HealthCare for the Homeless grantee for Oklahoma City.
The entire campus is owned and overseen by the Homeless Alliance, a local nonprofit created in 2004 to rally the community to end homelessness. In 2005, the Alliance noted that lack of access to transportation, lack of collaboration among the various and diverse service providers, and difficulty navigating the system of care for the homeless were among the most vexing barriers keeping homeless individuals and families from accessing the services they needed. The Alliance determined that a campus for homeless services could potentially address all three of these problems.
"This project is the result of planning and consensus-building to determine the best way to care for our homeless population, and others who need assistance getting back on their feet," said Mayor Cornett. "This is an important project and shows that even as we dream big for our city, we remember our responsibility to take care of others."
In 2006, the Alliance acquired a city block west of downtown Oklahoma City using private funds and began developing the community partnerships necessary to build the campus and bring the critical service providers together to make a seamless safety net for homeless families and individuals in Oklahoma City.
Development and construction of the campus cost $6.3 million. The City of Oklahoma City invested $4.85 million in stimulus funds from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) designated to the City and the State as well as $345,000 from general operating funds. In addition, two local, private foundations, Inasmuch and Butterfield Memorial, contributed $1.2 million. Operating costs for the campus are funded almost exclusively through corporate and private donors. Services offered by the various government, faith-based, and nonprofit agencies on the campus are funded by a diverse array of foundation, corporate, government, and individual funding streams.
The facilities on the campus were built with the latest in "green" technologies. The two main buildings on the campus are rehabilitated old warehouses. The entire campus is heated and cooled using a new innovation in geothermal technology called "single-pipe." WestTown is only the 6th facility in the country built using this hyper-efficient form of traditional geothermal heating and air. Parking lots of the campus are decomposed granite, allowing stormwater absorption. Insulation is bio-inert, countertops are recycled glass, and the Alliance worked with the City on other innovations to ensure campus operating costs are kept low.
Agencies currently working out of the resource center include Healing Hands (healthcare services), the Homeless Alliance (housing and administrative services), Legal Aid (civil legal assistance), NorthCare (mental health and substance abuse counseling), Neighborhood Services Organization (transitional housing and case management services), Positive Tomorrows (children's services), Red Rock Behavioral Health Services (mental health and substance abuse services), Volunteers of America (payee services), Wholestic Counseling (family counseling), the YWCA (domestic violence counseling), Baptist Medical and Dental Fellowship (pharmacy), Hope Community Services (counseling and housing assistance), TEEM (job training and placement),and the Veterans Administration. Discussions are in the works with more than six additional organizations. All agencies are provided offices rent-free thanks to generous donors and community support.
The day shelter also welcomes diverse entities to provide services. Local churches come in to feed and minister to the population, the VA, NorthCare, and Be The Change all come to the day shelter to try to engage their respective target populations in needed services, and for-profit day labor and staffing firms recruit day shelter guests for job placement.
The WestTown Homeless Resource Campus is a monumental step toward ending homelessness in Oklahoma City, which has been the Homeless Alliance's goal since its incorporation in April of 2004. Dan Straughan is the Executive Director of the Homeless Alliance in Oklahoma City.