Editor’s note: This is the first story in a four-part series about homelessness in Mus-tang. The series explores limited services for people experiencing homelessness in the area, and sheds light to one man’s journey.
Homelessness – many recognize it in metropolitan areas, but not in their backyard.
“It can hide,” said Jean Heasley, Mustang Parks and Recreation Director. “We expect it to look like the person standing on the street corner, and it really doesn’t look like that.”
While some local organizations, like Mustang Kiwanis Club, provide services to people who may be experiencing homelessness, there is an unknown overall count of homeless people in Mustang. Some people, like the club’s President Luke Ellis, believe there is a need, while others do not.
“It could increase,” said Ellis. “Things are getting tight. People are hurting, it seems like, more than what they were a couple months ago.”
Mustang Police Department officers have responded to four reports of people experiencing homelessness in Mustang within the last two years.
Chief Robert Groseclose said there were two reports in 2019 and two in 2020. He said the calls mostly refer to someone walking alone or sleeping in a car.
However, other factors play a role in the reports, as some homeless people also have a mental illness. The chief said his officers do the best they can in ensuring people know about resources, like the Jesus House in Oklahoma City, which provides hot meals and clothing.
Some people accept being driven to nonprofits, while others would rather be left alone, which Mustang officers comply with, as homelessness is not a crime, Groseclose said.
Aside from Oklahoma City, the closest homeless shelter is Youth and Family Services, Inc. of El Reno, which is in between Yukon and El Reno at 7565 State Highway 66. The nonprofit provides shelter to youth 0 to 17, counseling and more.
YFS is also the only agency in the area that conducts a Point in Time Count, an annual census of a city’s homeless population on one day. Staff members and volunteers surveyed 16 people in Canadian County Jan. 28, 2021.
More individual white males between 18 and 24 years old were surveyed than anyone else. There were no reports of domestic violence that led to homelessness for the people surveyed in 2021.
YFS relies on police and fire departments, as well as libraries and emergency rooms to obtain homeless numbers when conducting the PIT each year, due to limited volunteers. The nonprofit’s PIT boundaries extend into portions of Oklahoma County, as well as Blaine and Kingfisher counties.
Donna Davis, emergency solutions grant coordinator for YFS, said it is often difficult to get local organizations involved with helping conduct the PIT, as many do not want it to be known that their city has a homeless population.
“I think a coordinated effort of everybody doing what their niche is, is how we reduce homelessness,” said YFS Executive Director John Schneider.
He also said getting churches involved is impactful. More than 20 churches help YFS in various donation ways.
While some local churches provide services to people who may be experiencing homelessness in Mustang, city officials do not see an increased need.
Groseclose said homelessness is not a huge problem in Mustang. He also said he does not know of a highly populated area in which homeless people reside in the city.
While the Canadian County Sheriff’s Office does not keep specific data regarding homeless people, a dispatcher said officers don’t respond to many cases, although a check for incarcerates’ home addresses shows that many are homeless. The office tracks welfare checks, which encompass a variety of responses, and sometimes reports of homeless people are included, but it is not often, according to the dispatcher.
Local organizations that provide services to homeless people also do not keep track of how many they serve annually.
Mustang Kiwanis Club provides food to people within city limits, as well as those who are in Mustang Public Schools. Kitrena Hime, MPS director of student assistance said there were 15 students this school year who were homeless.
Annually, the district has less than 30 homeless students, she said.
“Although each family has their own story and set of circumstances, many are doubled up with family members until they can establish their own residence,” said Hime.
Schneider said youth 18-24 in transitional living apartments increased by 50% in 2020 from 2019.
Although, Ellis said he and his volunteers do not know of any of their clients who are homeless, as many give their address.
“They could give it of a friend of somebody,” Ellis said. “If they’re in school and they’re homeless, they just move around from family to family — friends.”
However, the club receives new clients all the time, he said.
“They may not want to tell us they’re homeless,” Ellis said.