OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – With inflation and rent hikes still on the rise, evictions that slowed down over the holiday season are expected to rise again in the new year.
A light is now being shined on a population of people being impacted they say are often hiding in plain sight – kids.
Previously reported in The Journal Record, exports note that as much as 10% of Oklahoma’s 700,000 students in both rural and urban districts are either currently experiencing homeless or some other type of housing insecurity, including moving frequently, living in a home with significant overcrowding, staying in motels, or people who are considered “couch homeless,” people who are homeless but temporarily staying with a friend, relative or acquaintance.
The median price for a 2-bedroom apartment in OKC is about $1100, but a family with just one working adult making minimum wage would have to work at least 151 hours to afford it, according to MIT’s Living Wage Calculator, which caluculates the income that working families and individuals need to make to meet minimum standards in their communities.
Much of the pandemic-era rent relief that was available has either run out or expired, leaving many families who depended on it without help to fill widening gaps for rent and other basic living expenses.
“70,000 kids who are school age experiencing homelessness is an estimate,” said Kelly Berger, Director of Family Support for Positive Tomorrows, Oklahoma’s only elementary school and social services agency specifically for children and families experiencing homelessness.
Berger and other community advocates said the roughly two week winter break for the Christmas and New Years holidays can be especially challenging and stressful for children and their families.
“Family homelessness often looks very different than our typical image of homelessness,” he added.
“Because of fears of [the] child welfare system, fears of police or assumptions that they may get in trouble if they’re seen with having their kids living in their car or staying in a tent [parents] are hiding. They’re staying doubled up, tripled up in in small apartments [or] they’re staying in motels where they’re paying more than most people pay for their mortgage because they don’t have the entirety of the move in cost to get in somewhere [more stable].”
“A lot of kids suffer in silence and they don’t want to be thought of as less than or needy and really just sometimes connecting kids or families with the right people is all it takes,” said Teena Belcik, who serves as President & CEO of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Oklahoma County.
“When they are out of school, which is usually their first line of defense for help, they really look to other areas [for] help,” she said, noting that the Boys and Girls Clubs works closely with groups like Homeless Alliance and Positive Tomorrows to address the needs of kids experiencing homelessness, in addition to offering its own wide of range of programs and services to empower kids and help them form meaningful connections.
“Between us to make sure we’re covering all the bases for kids and for their families,” she added.
“The cold weather just presents really unique challenges for this population and with [kids] being out of school and there’s that lack of structure, lack of consistency [and with]the lack of meals, lack of childcare… a lot of [kids]rely on school for breakfast and lunch and those meals,” said Meghan Mueller, Associate Executive Director for the Homeless Alliance.
Mueller said Homeless Alliance helped approximately 858 people end their homelessness in 2021, including offering case management services and connecting people to permanent housing.
“Homelessness is a traumatic experience for anyone but children in particular, so when we encounter families who are experiencing homelessness, I think there’s just an increased sense of urgency to really get them connected to services, to really minimize the impact of trauma and then thinking on a broader scale,” she added.
“It’s great if we can get a family off the street and into shelter, but obviously nothing compares to the safety and security of your own home,” she added.
Kelly Berger at Positive Tomorrows said few protections for renters and tenants will most likely add up to more evictions in the new year, so for now, his team is hard at work.
“We try to make sure that none of our clients were out on the street in the cold, that they were able to spend Christmas either in a shelter, hopefully in their new housing if we got there yet, or in a motel to prevent anyone from having to be on the street with their kids during the during the holidays,” Berger said.
“There’s two areas we’re really focusing on in this week before the new year,” he added.
“One is making sure that those families that are in shelters or in some kind of housing situation, that they don’t return to street homelessness or literal homelessness. The other main focus is enrolling new kids [into] our school.”