Earlier this month, the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) traveled to Oklahoma City, which has been using local and federal funding—including millions from the American Rescue Plan—to reduce homelessness.
USICH Executive Director Olivet and Senior Regional Advisor Tamara Wright met with tribal leaders, state officials, local service providers, and youth experiencing homelessness. They were joined during parts of the trip by Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Regional Administrator Candace Valenzuela and HUD Field Office Director Sharon Gordon-Ribeiro.
“Homelessness is everyone’s concern—not a partisan issue—and Oklahoma City is working to collaborate across parties, governments, tribes, and communities to solve it using limited but unprecedented resources to move people off the streets and out of shelters and to prevent homelessness before it happens,” said Olivet of USICH.
“Native people are overrepresented in our homeless population, and we need to act with speed and care,” said Valenzuela of HUD. “I’m grateful that tribal leadership is working with USICH and HUD’s Southern Plains Office of Native American Populations to bring about better results for native families.”
During the visit:
- USICH and HUD hosted a listening session and invited representatives from all 39 federally recognized tribes in Oklahoma. The federal and tribal leaders able to attend discussed the importance of tribal autonomy and how to address the high rate of tribal homelessness. “The outreach by USICH is a promising sign that collaborative initiatives could serve to meet the needs of our Indigenous community in a comprehensive approach that reflects the unique experiences and dynamics of our tribal people,” said Vice Chairman of the Kiowa Tribe Jacob Tsotigh. “USICH’s visit reflects a desire to truly understand who we are and why solutions should come from a basis of mutual respect. I am hopeful that together we can accomplish good things for those in the margins and shadows.”
- USICH visited Oklahoma City’s Continuum of Care and Homeless Alliance to learn about Mayor David Holt’s work to leverage as much as $500 million for housing and homelessness, which has helped reduce homelessness in the region by 15% from 2020 to 2022, according to the Point-in Time Count.
- USICH joined a meeting of the Oklahoma Governor’s Interagency Council on Homelessness, which is in the process of updating the state’s homelessness plan and drafting its annual report. “This next year we will be working toward amplifying the voice of people who have experienced homelessness and focusing our efforts upstream to close the front door to homelessness,” said Suzanne Williams, chair of the Governor’s Interagency Council on Homelessness.
- USICH also joined a meeting of Oklahoma City’s Youth Action Board (YAB)—which won a $3 million grant from HUD’s Youth Homelessness Demonstration Program to implement its coordinated community plan. “I really appreciated that they cared enough to take time out of their evening to listen to what we had to say,” said YAB member ‘B.’ “ I love being able to talk directly to those who can influence decisions instead of just giving our feedback on paper and sending it through.”
- USICH met with the state’s top health official to discuss how more services—especially Medicaid, which residents voted to expand in 2020—could be made available to people experiencing homelessness. “The Oklahoma Health Care Authority (OHCA) is looking to expand the agency’s reach to Oklahomans experiencing homelessness,” said Kevin Corbett, Oklahoma’s health and mental health secretary and CEO of OHCA. “It is important for us to work together to educate Oklahomans that they can receive quality health care services regardless of their ability to pay and create opportunities for potential members to attain healthy outcomes.”
“Oklahoma has adopted evidence-based and outcomes-focused interventions,” said Wright of USICH. “This framework helps make it possible to not only reduce but end homelessness. Look no further than the national progress we’ve made with veteran homelessness. With resources, a shared goal, and collaboration, veteran homelessness has been cut in half since 2010. Now we need to scale this success for everyone else, especially the groups disproportionately impacted by homelessness, which includes tribes.”