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Local nonprofits, officials say homelessness on the rise

Editor’s note: This is the first 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 to one man’s journey.

When residents go about their business in Yukon, they might not immediately see a person in need.
However, that’s not always the case.

Two tents and a strung up tarp are surrounded by clothes, strollers and an American flag, which sways in the wind Dec. 30, 2020 near downtown Yukon. Two days prior, Yukon Police Department officers and detectives located a dead body near what they called a “homeless camp.” Photo / Haley Humphrey

“I wish we didn’t have a homeless problem, but I see with the economy and COVID-19 and the longer this lasts, the bigger that problem is going to get …,” said Yukon Mayor Shelli Selby.
By providing food to people residing in motels on Main Street in Yukon through her nonprofit Jacob’s Cupboard, Selby has seen six people living in one room.
“If you’re not here seeing it on a daily basis, it’s easy for the community to think it’s not here,” said Missy King, executive director of Yukon Sharing, a local nonprofit. “But it is.”
The number of people experiencing homelessness in Yukon is unknown because a count, such as those done in other metro communities, has not been conducted.
“There is a homeless population here in Yukon,” said Joanne Riley, executive director of Compassionate Hands, another local nonprofit.
“My biggest concern would be the fact that we do not have a shelter to send them to.”
Despite limited data, area nonprofits are working overtime, more so since the coronavirus pandemic arrived in Canadian County.
“We need to take care of our neighbors,” Riley said.
Yukon has three nonprofits that provide services to homeless people in the area.
Manna Pantry provides groceries to their clients. Director Sherri Rogers said while the number of homeless people she serves varies, there are on average four or five who she regularly sees.
“I know we’ve not reached all of them, by any means,” said Rogers.
The pantry does not keep data on how many homeless people they serve; however, Rogers said she is going to begin this year. Predominantly, Manna serves white males between the ages of 20-30, she said.
“We are seeing an increase in homeless people,” Rogers said.
Last year, Rogers served two people, who acknowledged they were without shelter.
“I just see their faces a lot of times,” she said. “Some of them seem so beaten down.”
People who come to the pantry often ask volunteers for additional services, and Rogers said they refer them to Compassionate Hands, which provides rent and utility assistance. Although, many ask for shelter, she said.
“I would definitely think that Yukon would benefit from having an adult shelter,” said John Schneider, Youth and Family Services of El Reno executive director.
Aside from Oklahoma City, the closest homeless shelter is YFS, which is in between Yukon and El Reno at 7565 State Highway 66. The nonprofit provides shelter to youth 0 to 17, along with counseling services and more.

School system keeps count

While area organizations are beginning to record data, Yukon Public Schools keeps records of its students experiencing homelessness throughout the district.
YPS spokesperson Larrissa Lockwood said there were seven elementary and 11 secondary students who were homeless in December 2020.
“The number of YPS students experiencing homelessness is down this year, most likely due to increased barriers in the identification process” said Lance Haggard, executive director of elementary education. “If a student’s basic needs are not met, they cannot thrive academically or socially, so our district is blessed with several community organizations who partner with us to actively support families in need by providing shelter, food, clothing and much more.”
Schneider said youth 18-24 in transitional living apartments increased by 50% in 2020 from 2019.

YFS says coordinated effort will address needs

YFS is 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 in a year. Staff members and volunteers surveyed 16 people in Canadian County Jan. 28, 2020.
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 2020.
Because of limited volunteers, YFS relies on police and fire departments, libraries and emergency rooms to obtain homeless numbers when conducting the PIT each year. 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 the count, 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,” Schneider said.
He also said getting churches involved is impactful. More than 20 churches help YFS in various donation ways.
“What do we have here — we have churches, we have the Ministerial Alliance — and that’s where I see us being able to serve the homeless,” Selby agreed.
Yukon’s Ministerial Alliance is comprised of local churches.
But area nonprofits say more than collaboration is needed. Specifically, a homeless shelter in Yukon is critical, Rogers said.
Compassionate Hands agreed. While the nonprofit provides medicine and hygiene products to people, inexpensive hotel rooms are sometimes offered to those with nowhere else to go during inclement weather, like the record siberian front making its way to the state this weekend.
“That is not the norm, that is the exception,” Riley said.
Because Compassionate Hands’ budget is limited, they are unable to offer hotel rooms on a regular basis. Their building is also unable to temporarily house people, as their space does not allow, and they would become inundated, Riley said.
Throughout 2020, Compassionate Hands paid for 20 hotel rooms.
At YFS, people who are older than 17 are given hotel vouchers.
“They have to keep in contact with me, keep looking for housing …,” Davis said. “We address it on a daily basis — every two or three days to see how things are going.”
More hotel vouchers have been provided to people experiencing homelessness in 2020 than 2019, with a more prolonged stay in a hotel, she said. Because of CARES Act funds, YFS provided emergency shelter to 34 people in the county throughout 2020 and the first week of 2021.
There were 19 people in 2019, who were given vouchers.

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