OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – Officials say more than 1,300 people were experiencing homelessness when Oklahoma City conducted the annual Point in Time Count.

The community conducted the count of the homeless population on March 3.

In all, 1,339 people were counted, which is down from 1,573 in 2020. Due to the pandemic, the count was canceled in 2021 for the first time.

“This is a particularly difficult population to count accurately,” said Jerod Shadid, program planner for the City of Oklahoma City’s Homeless Services. “Things like the weather on the day of the count and counting strategies can cause the numbers to fluctuate. That’s why the result from one year to the next may not tell you much, but conducting the survey every year and looking at trends over time helps us identify where we need to focus our resources.”

The count is usually completed the last week of January, but it was delayed twice because of the pandemic and a snowstorm.

“Shelters typically see a dip in clients at the beginning of each month due in part to benefits – like Social Security – being issued,” said Dan Straughan, executive director of the Homeless Alliance. “People use that money to pay for things like food and motels which results in fewer people coming to shelters at the beginning of each month. Numbers then increase later in the month as money runs out. Because the count was conducted on March 3, we believe this contributed to an artificially low number.”

According to the survey, 10% of the homeless population are veterans. Officials say 16% of the population are members of families with children.

Also, 28% of the population reports being affected by mental illness. Officials say 20% of the homeless population are 24-years-old or younger.

“The good news is our community is getting better at housing people,” said Shadid. “Thanks to years of collaboration, local organizations are doing a better job of coordinating services. It makes it easier to track resources as they become available and allows the agencies to pool their resources to house clients faster.”

Officials say one of the current challenges is the limited availability of affordable housing.

“Oklahoma City has experienced population growth and the number of affordable housing units and wages have not kept pace,” said Straughan.

Many homeless service agencies are reporting difficulties in finding available housing units and landlords who will rent to people who don’t have a solid rental history.

“When you have a strong housing market, landlords have more applicants and can be more selective as to whom they rent to,” said Shadid. “That often shuts out people who don’t have a consistent rental history, have evictions on their record or other issues in their past.”

Officials also stress that Oklahoma has some of the highest national rates of mental illness, substance abuse and domestic violence.

“The community is working really hard to bring together multiple nonprofits and government agencies to take a team approach to housing people, and it’s working,” said Straughan. “We just need to invest more and address some of the systemic issues that lead to homelessness.”

The survey did not attempt to count people who are staying in hotels, treatment facilities, emergency rooms, jails, or people who are homeless but temporarily staying with a friend, relative, or acquaintance.