Checking Claims, Homeless Myths in the State | New


Exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic and the shortage of affordable housing, homelessness has become an even more controversial issue for communities in Oklahoma over the past year.

It’s still unclear how the pandemic affected Oklahoma’s homeless population, but the problem has become more visible as the number of homeless people who are homeless – or sleeping outside – has increased, said Greg Shinn, housing director for mental health. Oklahoma Association.

Part of the problem is the lack of affordable and supportive housing options for chronically homeless and disabled people, he said.

“We are just not keeping pace with the influx of homelessness, and there is not enough immediate access to affordable housing options,” Shinn said.

The Frontier found claims circulating on social media, ranging from basic misconceptions about how and why people become homeless to reports that cities in other states are transporting homeless people to Oklahoma.

We spoke with service providers and city officials across the state to better understand these issues.

Claim: Homelessness is on the increase in Oklahoma.

Source: Multiple demands on social networks

Checking the facts: Mixed

Over the past decade, the number of homeless people in Oklahoma has declined, but the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on those numbers remains uncertain due to the lack of up-to-date data.

The state recently peaked at just under 4,200 homeless people in 2017, according to the US Interagency Council on Homelessness. By the start of 2020, that number had fallen to around 3,900 people.

But the numbers look different in urban centers across the state.

In Tulsa, homelessness has steadily increased since 2015, when less than 800 people were homeless. At the start of 2020, more than 1,000 people were counted during the city’s one-off count, an annual survey of homeless people.

In Oklahoma City, the number of homeless was on the decline, hitting a low of 1,183 in 2018, according to the Oklahoma City point tally. By early 2020, however, that number had exceeded 1,500 people.

Many service providers have not completed a full count of homeless populations in 2021 due to concerns over COVID-19. But the unstable economy, evictions and health complications have had a negative effect on housing stability. And the annual counts already don’t include people who are homeless, meaning they stay with friends or family but don’t have a home of their own.

Urban centers in the state have a higher cost of living and higher rents, and working full-time for minimum wage doesn’t mean a person can afford stable housing, Shinn said. Opportunities to earn a living can be hard to find for people struggling with mental health issues, addictions, or lacking educational opportunities, and populations in urban areas continue to increase, exacerbating these issues. existing.

In Oklahoma City and Tulsa, new shelters and housing programs are providing space and services to those in need. Federal COVID-19 relief dollars are supporting these efforts, which have historically been underfunded.

– Kayla branch

Claim: Seventy tons of human waste was removed from a homeless camp in Norman and led to a boil water order for Norman residents to guard against E.coli contamination.

Source: Sassan Moghadam, one of the founders of activist group Unite Norman, raised questions on social media about possible water contamination from human waste after the town of Norman cleared a homeless camp near a stream in May. The city decided to clean up the camp the same week it issued a precautionary order for residents in part of the city to boil tap water due to possible E.coli contamination.

Checking the facts: Most of the time wrong

The town of Norman cleared more than 70 tons of material from the homeless camp in early May, which included human waste as well as thrown clothes and rotten food, but officials say there is no connection between the camp and the water samples that tested positive for E. coli.

Geri Wellborn, water treatment manager at Norman, said there was no possibility that the E.coli contamination that led to the town’s May boil order came from a homeless camp.

“The answer is quite simply no, categorically,” she said.

The city’s untreated water supply at Thunderbird Lake is believed to contain E. coli bacteria from a variety of sources including cattle, horses, pigs, dogs, and faulty septic tanks.

However, the city’s treatment plant disinfects the water with chlorine and ammonia before it reaches consumers. The treatment plant also tests the water to make sure it is potable, Wellborn said.

Norman issued a preventative boil water order for parts of the city in May after a few water samples tested positive for E. coli. Wellborn said the city still didn’t know what caused the problem, but samples positive for E.coli were limited to an area where construction of a new water main was underway, Skylar McElhaney said, spokesperson for the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality. The order was lifted after the city flushed the water line and tested to ensure E. coli was no longer present.

Responding to The Frontier, Moghadam said in an email that he maintains his comments on social media and continues to be concerned about the impact of the homeless camps on the water supply of Norman.

– Brianna Bailey

Claim: Other cities across the country are purchasing one-way homeless bus tickets to Oklahoma.

Source: Some local and national media have reported on bus ticket programs for the homeless.

Checking the facts: Most of the time wrong

As The Guardian reports, homeless shelters and programs in cities across the country sometimes buy homeless people one-way bus tickets to another city where they may have family or employment prospects, although the effectiveness of these programs is questionable.

But service providers in Tulsa and Oklahoma City say the idea of ​​other cities sending large numbers of homeless people to Oklahoma is a myth. Most of the homeless in the state come from within the state. And the small number of people who came from out of state did not necessarily arrive through another city’s homeless resettlement program.

“It’s a frequent rumor that we have to break the myth,” said Becky Gilgo, executive director of Housing Solutions in Tulsa.

About two-thirds of Tulsa’s homeless population have become homeless in Tulsa County and most of the other thirds come from other parts of the state, according to data collected by a one-time count of people homeless, Gilgo said.

Dan Straughan, executive director of the Homeless Alliance of Oklahoma City, said only 2.5% to 3% of those polled by his organization said they had an out-of-state zip code before becoming homeless, and most of them came from neighboring states.

“For me, I have the impression that it has the flavor of an urban myth. You know, it keeps going up, you keep going down it, ”Straughan said. “It can happen, you know, one-off here and there. But that’s nobody’s policy.

– Clifton Adcock

Claim: People with mental illness become homeless after receiving mental health treatment at Griffin Memorial Hospital in Norman and the city has a significant homeless population due to the hospital.

Source: Several Norman residents told The Frontier it was something they had always heard.

Checking the facts: Most of the time wrong

Griffin Memorial Hospital is managed by the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Addiction and has 120 beds to provide inpatient treatment.

Norman’s service providers told The Frontier that people returned from Griffin sometimes end up on the streets, but this is the exception rather than the rule and not the main reason people are homeless in the city. community.

People also sometimes become homeless in Norman after a period of incarceration in the county jail or after leaving one of the area’s other mental health and addiction providers, advocates said.

Of Griffin’s 1,268 outings in 2020, 18 were transferred to a Cleveland County homeless shelter, according to data provided by the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services.

“All were reportedly linked to community-based follow-up treatment and support services, including case management and housing assistance,” said Jeff Dismukes, spokesperson for the agency.

In 2019, only nine people visited a homeless shelter out of 1,356 Griffin exits.

Norman had a homeless population of 266 in 2020, up from 347 in 2019, according to the city’s one-time tally.

Most people are homeless because they don’t have the means or resources to afford shelter, said April Heiple, executive director of the nonprofit Norman Food and Shelter Inc.

“Probably the biggest myth about homelessness is that homelessness is a mental health issue, an addiction issue or a criminal issue,” she said. “Homelessness is an economic problem.

– Brianna Bailey

Claim: Homeless people the town of Norman removed from an encampment in May were offered housing, but most refused and said they wanted to stay on the streets.

Source: Various articles on social media claimed homeless people in Norman wanted to stay homeless after city officials reported that some had turned down offers of housing.

Checking the facts: Most of the time wrong

Of the approximately 20 people who lived in the camp as of May, all but four now have plans in place to help them secure housing, which include resources such as rent vouchers, a case manager and other services, said Michelle Evans, homeless program. coordinator for the Town of Norman.

Of the four people without a housing plan in place, only one turned down offers of help, Evans said.

“We continue to work with him to this day,” she said.

Two of the other four people without a housing plan are now in treatment programs and one is incarcerated, she said.

– Brianna Bailey

Rating system:

True: a claim supported by factual evidence

Mostly True: A claim that is largely true but also contains inaccurate details

Mixed: A claim that contains a combination of correct and inaccurate information

True but misleading: a statement that is factually true but omits critical details or context

Mostly False: A claim that is largely false but also contains specific details

False: an assertion that has no basis in fact

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