On Monday morning, amidst a crowd of city and state officials, contractors and MHAOK team members, Cynthia B, one of our Taylor Ridge Apartments residents, did the honors of cutting a purple satin ribbon in celebration of the newly renovated place that she now calls home. What a moment in time that was.
We had bluebird skies for the event – merely hours out of a storm that swept Oklahoma with a dozen tornadoes. Energy was high and smiles were wide . The remarks delivered, both genuine and poignant:
‘Each year, Mental Health Association Oklahoma participates in the Point -in-Time count — an event that happens in late January, in the wee hours of the morning during which nearly one hundred volunteers bundle up, go out into the encampments, under bridges, and to hidden alleys to count the number of people experiencing street homelessness.
Last year’s point in time count showed 1,339 individuals in the Oklahoma City metro area have no roof over their heads. That is 1,339 too many people who are not having their basic human needs met. No doubt, the final numbers of this year’s count will not decrease.
Every single penny in our budget is hard-earned and well-used to address the needs of Oklahoma’s most vulnerable who find themselves at the intersection homelessness and mental illness, and many of those dollars are earmarked specifically for housing programs.
Why, you may ask? Because housing is health care.
Imagine needing insulin for your diabetes with no refrigerated place to store it. Imagine losing your belongings that carried the inhaler for your asthma. Imagine not having a reliable place to house your life-saving blood pressure, cholesterol or mental health medications.
Often, the unwieldiness of a mental health disorder feels downright impossible for someone whose entire life can be stuffed into a tattered backpack, which may or may not get taken.
Having a safe, stable place to call home is so critically important to do more than just exist in this world. The security of the phrase “my house” lays the foundation for those struggling with mental health disorders to better address them. This is why we have an obligation to embrace the evidence-based effective strategies like Housing First.
Housing First prioritizes permanent, stable housing for those experiencing homelessness, making their journey to self-sustainability more accessible. It’s the first step in the process of housing, healing, and wholeness.
The rehabilitation of Taylor Ridge is the next step in expanding our Oklahoma City footprint of safe and supportive affordable housing.
Broader social change requires dedicated action, and we take action through focusing on the work needed to bring people to housing. Mental Health Association Oklahoma has the ONLY street outreach team that covers all 620 square miles of Oklahoma City; and this team is often the first point of contact to connect individuals to the services we offer, including housing.
Our folks meet those experiencing homelessness where they are. It all starts with building trust. Picture a bridge. On one side are amazing services from all our partners. On the other side are all the folks we connect with every day. We help them cross the bridge and connect to services. We go to them.
And now because of you OKC celebrates that this is what lies on the other side of the bridge. Thank you all for making it possible.
You are leaders in this winnable fight to end homelessness.‘
Visit our YouTube channel to hear the remarks from MHAOK CEO Terri White, Oklahoma City Mayor David Holt, Ward 2 City Councilman James Cooper, and Taylor Ridge resident Cynthia B.