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Local church, city staff see high demand for rent, utility assistance

Editor’s note: This is the third story in a four-part series about homelessness in Mustang. The series explores limited services for people experiencing homelessness in the area, and sheds light to one man’s journey.

While the Mustang City Council has not specifically addressed homelessness in the area, the city’s Parks and Recreation Depart-ment provides free showers to people.
Four people used the showers inside the Mustang Town Center during February’s historic winter storms.
During the Oct. 26, 2020 ice storm, about 30 people also used the showers. People can call Parks and Rec Director Jean Heasley at 405-376-3411 and she will provide them a day pass to use the showers.

While the Mustang Town Center’s lobby was vacant Tuesday morning, the facility’s staff said many people, who may be experiencing homelessness, have sat at the tables. Some people have also remained in their cars in the center’s lot as well. Others come inside to escape inclement weather. Photo / Haley Humphrey

“We occasionally will have someone who’s living in their car and they’ll come in,” said Heasley.
Two older females experienced homelessness in 2020, and Parks and Rec staff connected them
with programs. Within the last five years, Heasley said there have been two more homeless
people who the center served.
Mustang Public Library Director Julie Slupe said many people come to the library to charge their
phones and use the computers. Two men who visited the library were homeless, she said.
“I think we would be naïve to say that it doesn’t occur in isolated incidents for short periods of
time,” said Jim Harris, Clear Springs Church pastor in Mustang.

To Harris, there are different variations of homelessness. The U.S. Department of Housing and
Urban Development defines homelessness as an individual or family who lacks a fixed, regular
and adequate nighttime residence.
Places like this could be a car, park, abandoned building, shelters, hotel and motel rooms, as well
as if a person is discharged from an institution where they have been a resident for 90 days or
less and has resided in a place, like a shelter prior.
In Mustang, Harris helps residents facing evictions.
“There’s probably more of an issue than we’re aware of in those who fall on hard times and
temporarily could use assistance …,” Harris said.
Nonprofit Youth and Family Services Inc. of El Reno provides rent and utility assistance to
Canadian County residents facing evictions. Because of the CARES Act, they have served more
people in 2020.
At the beginning of 2020 until August, YFS served 12 people. When COVID-19 arrived, that
number more than doubled at 57.
In 2019, the agency served 23 people facing evictions in the county.
“We are pretty regularly hit up about rent assistance or utility assistance,” Harris said, speaking
about his church. “That is a common need in our community.”
While the need is very high, Harris said the church would quickly deplete its funds if they
provided more than $200 a month in rent and utility assistance.
Ashley Patten, Active Adults Center coordinator at the Town Center, said she has referred more
people to local churches to receive rent and utility assistance this year compared to previous
years.
About 25 years ago, the Mustang Ministerial Alliance, which is a group of local churches,
created a benevolent fund to provide gas and groceries to residents in need. The police
department and a local convenience store participated in keeping records of each person they saw
through this program.
Through the fund, the alliance also provided rent and utility assistance.
“As Mustang began to grow exponentially, the need just outpaced our funds,” Harris said.
The fund eventually disbanded about 10 years ago.
Affordable housing
affects homelessness
Affordable housing is just one factor that contributes to homelessness. Many people pay 50% or
more of their income on rent, requiring them to work two or more jobs.
“It’s not just affordable housing,” said Donna Davis, emergency solutions grant coordinator for
YFS. “It’s better-waged employment.”
The hourly wage necessary to afford a two-bedroom in Canadian County is $17.42, according to
a 2020 report from the National Low Income Housing Coalition. There are about 44,633 people
who live in the county, and of those approximately 10,810 are renters.
The report’s estimated hourly renter’s wage is $14.31 to afford a monthly rent of $744 in the
county. The minimum wage in Oklahoma is $7.25.

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