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American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds filter in for homeless prevention



Local and state officials are working on plans to help Oklahomans who are now, or face becoming homeless. The effort is part of the federal stimulus package aimed at pulling the country through the current recession.

Oklahoma is slated for nearly $8 million over a three-year period to provide homeless prevention programs. Oklahoma City, which will receive $2.1 million of the funds, is finalizing plans to use the money.


"We have already advertised, request for proposals, for a homeless program coordinator to oversee this program and will begin an open solicitation process for agencies to submit their applications to provide the services," said Jane Ferrell, an urban redevelopment specialist in the city's planning department.

The city must submit a plan for approval to the U.S. Housing and Urban Development by mid-May.

City officials have held two community meetings for input on what programs and services would best meet the needs for the homeless or those who are facing dire consequences that could force them out of their homes.

"The suggestions and discussion centered around the need for coordination among existing agencies and a discussion of a pilot program sponsored by the Homeless Alliance, appropriately titled Coordinated Case Management," Ferrell said. "The concept (is) focusing on having representation from several service agencies at the table together to quickly assess and address client needs and issues surrounding homelessness," she said, such as mental illness, substance abuse, evictions, landlord problems and domestic violence.

"We do not anticipate new programs, but want to use the funding to create a better response to the issues and carry that coordination beyond the three-year funding."

The funds are part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which designated at total of $1.5 billion to states for those who are homeless or at risk of losing their home.

The city's proposed budget is broken up into four parts:

 homelessness prevention (about $1.17 million) rapid re-housing ($778,106) data collection administrative costs (each $108,070)

Prevention services would include short-term and medium-term rental assistance, security and utility deposits, moving cost assistance, utility payments and motel and hotel vouchers. Re-housing consists of case management, outreach, housing search and placement, legal services, mediation and credit repair.

Data collection funds are intended for counts of homeless people and analyzing patterns of homelessness.

Ferrell said the city's last homeless count, conducted in January, indicated 1,475 were homeless, which includes 803 in emergency shelters, 300 in transitional housing and 372 unsheltered. 

A program coordinator would be appointed to oversee the use of the funds. The coordinator would also provide outreach to health care programs, clinics, hospitals, housing agencies and faith-based organizations that conduct community outreach programs, as well as provide community organizations with an up-to-date list of homeless service providers, according to the budget proposal.

Short-term help, such as emergency rent assistance or utility payments, will typically last 90 days and longer-term assistance will normally be six to 12 months after placement in housing. The funds may not be used for child care and employment training expenses or for mortgages and taxes.

The plan also calls for a housing coordinator to create a list of available and affordable housing and develop ongoing, working relationships with community landlords. The coordinator would also help settle disputes between landlords and tenants and could also deny referrals to landlords deemed uncooperative.

Anyone who wants to be enrolled in the program must meet certain conditions, including being at or below 50 percent of the area median income, with preference given to households at or below 30 percent of the median income. Applicants also must be either homeless or at risk of losing their home. The program can help if the family has run out of housing options and lacks the finances to fix their housing problem on their own. According to the proposal, "The defining question is, 'Would this individual or family become homeless but for this assistance?'"

The Oklahoma Department of Commerce is also holding a public meeting on the homeless prevention funds on Monday at 10 a.m. at the Metro Technology Center's Springlake campus, 1900 Springlake Drive. This meeting will be to solicit comments for the state's entire allotment of homeless prevention funds. "Scott Cooper

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