Homeless shelter not in city’s plans

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

One Yukon city council member understands the importance of shelter.
Col. Rick Cacini, a veteran himself, routinely helps homeless vets, a handful of whom he has found shelter and a job for in the last year.
“We try to help them — not just give them a place to sleep or food to hold them over, we try to give them a place to sleep and a job at the same time,” said Cacini. “That way they’re taking care of themselves.”

In the distance, a person walks in frigid temperatures near Bluff Creek Park in Oklahoma City. As there is not a homeless shelter in Yukon, local police remained at the ready to transport people experiencing homelessness to shelters and warming stations in Oklahoma City. Yukon city officials reminded people to call 911 if they are experiencing an emergency, as the state’s air temperatures plummeted below zero for several days this week. Photo / Kaylan Henley

He said programs that focus on remaining with homeless people, so they can stand on their feet is vital. Yukon’s city council and three nonprofits must work together to provide support to end street homelessness, Cacini said.
But collaborating to establish a shelter is not in the works.
Cacini said Yukon does not have funds to put toward a shelter, as of now, and Mayor Shelli Selby agreed. Building a shelter is not in Yukon’s five- or 10-year plan.
“Shelters aren’t cheap to run,” said Joanne Riley, local nonprofit Compassionate Hands executive director.
Although shelter funds are nonexistent, people experiencing homelessness can take free showers at the Jackie Cooper Gym.
When the Oct. 26, 2020 ice storm hit, the gym opened for people without power to sleep and shower. However, Selby said very few came.
The Dale Robertson Center was also available as a warming station for area people to escape the frigid temperatures Feb. 12. Although, the center was unable to remain open throughout the week, due to inclement weather causing hazardous travel, as well as a pipe bursting Thursday.
Transportation is a problem
Another roadblock for many is limited transportation in the area, Riley said.
To combat this, Compassionate Hands offers van rides through a program, which is 80% funded
through a federal grant, for older adults with disabilities.
Selby said the council is in the process of working with the Association of Central Oklahoma
Governments to potentially offer a bus service to transport residents to Oklahoma City and return
them to Yukon at the end of each day.
Compassionate Hands also does not keep specific data on homeless people, however, Riley said
they serve five to 10 people per month.
“A lot of people are homeless in the fact that they’re staying in their cars, they don’t have a roof
over their head — they have families that stay in the car,” Riley said.
The nonprofit provides gas cards to address this.

Like Manna Pantry, another local nonprofit, Compassionate Hands serves predominantly white
males between 20 to 30 years old.
While she said she has not seen an increase in homeless people this year, Riley expects she will
soon, given an increase in evictions due to COVID-19.
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.
“Their economic thermometer does not depend on the stock market,” Riley said. “It depends on
whether or not they have a job and can feed their family.”
She said she has received more calls recently from people who are worried they will eventually
be evicted than at the beginning of 2020.
“If they’re not homeless right now, they’re right on the edge of it,” Riley said.
Affordable housing, better wages cited
Other factors contribute to homelessness, some of which area nonprofits cannot address on their
own.
“We are inundated and over our heads with what we’re trying to do — just keep people fed and
clothed and do the best we can,” said Missy King, executive director of nonprofit Yukon
Sharing.
Affordable housing plays a key role in ending homelessness, Riley said.
“It’s not just affordable housing,” said Donna Davis, emergency solutions grant coordinator for
YFS. “It’s better-waged employment.”
Other factors, like a lack of savings contribute to homelessness, she said.
“There’s no cushion,” Davis said. “It’s literally a paycheck-to-paycheck, like most people have.”
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.
King also said affordable housing is a necessity. Yukon Sharing works to provide food, clothing
and household items to people.
She said the city must step in to end homelessness in Yukon, as well.

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