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Money to Prevent Homelessness Begins to Make Its Mark

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More than $12 million in federal stimulus money was awarded to the Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-housing Program. However, the funds are not being spent in support of traditional homeless populations. More than $12 million in federal stimulus money was awarded to the Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-housing Program. However, the funds are not being spent in support of traditional homeless populations.
Instead the funds are going towards people like 23-year-old and single mother of three, Ashley Henry. Instead the funds are going towards people like 23-year-old and single mother of three, Ashley Henry.
Funds from the HPRP are helping Henry with her rent and utility bills while she gets back on her feet so she and her children won't have to end up on the streets. Funds from the HPRP are helping Henry with her rent and utility bills while she gets back on her feet so she and her children won't have to end up on the streets.

By Alex Cameron, Oklahoma Impact Team

OKLAHOMA CITY -- To some Oklahomans, it might seem foolish to spend millions of tax dollars on a program to prevent homelessness, especially at a time when budgets everywhere are strained to their breaking points.

Others might say that's precisely the reason to fund such a program right now -- because money is tight.

Like it or not, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act earmarked more than $12 million in federal stimulus money for the Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-housing Program (HPRP); $1.9 million was allocated to the City of Tulsa and Tulsa County, $2.1 million to Oklahoma City, and about $8 million to the rest of the state.

It's far more money than homeless advocacy groups traditionally receive from the government, and it will not be spent in support of traditional homeless populations. Those with mental illness who have been in and out of shelters for years; middle-aged men with criminal pasts who haven't been able to hold onto a job; the panhandlers, the vagrants, the chronically homeless need not apply.

Ashley Henry, 23, has never been homeless, but she and her three children very nearly ended up in a shelter earlier this winter. HPRP kept that from happening.

Henry lost most of her material possessions last year in the wake of a terrible personal trauma. She pulled herself together, went to school to become a tax preparer and landed a job.

But before she could actually begin working and start earning a paycheck, her support network began to crumble, and she feared she would have to move into a homeless shelter.

"Yes, and with three young children, I really didn't want to do that" Henry said recently. "I really didn't want to expose them to an environment like that."

When the Oklahoma Impact Team first met Henry in late December, she was living out of a metro hotel anxious to put behind her the memories of a year in which she lost everything.

"Everything: house, school books, cars, clothes, furniture... all those things, and we've been bouncing from house to house since April," Henry said.

Just when she thought she was headed out onto the streets, she learned about HPRP.

"It was a situation where we knew we probably needed to get her housed as quickly as we could," explained Jill Kliewer, HPRP case manager for the Homeless Alliance in Oklahoma City.

Kliewer said it's people like Henry -- the nearly or newly homeless -- that HPRP is targeting. The program keeps them in housing, or gets them back in housing, by helping with financial obligations like utility payments, security deposits, and, in Henry's case, rent, for up to a year.

"But the goal is that, in that time what we would provide in assistance will start to decrease and what she's able to do towards her housing and her utilities will increase," Kliewer said.

In Tulsa, HPRP managers are getting 200 calls a day from people needing help. Most of them, they say, are victims of the recession.

"We've had professional people who maybe were working for a small firm, who maybe got laid off and they could always make their payment before but now they can't," said Tulsa Day Center executive director Sandra Lewis.

In addition to money, the program also provides case management, which officials say, will help ensure that the money isn't wasted.

"We want to be confident that you're going to be able to sustain housing on your own when this program is over," said Dan Straughan, executive director of the Homeless Alliance.

The program runs for three years or until the money runs out. Two and a half months in, stimulus funds are already helping house more than 1,000 Oklahomans. Ashley Henry is one of them.

"It's gonna be a great feeling to be in my own place again," Henry said.

Homeless advocates understand and say they couldn't be happier.

"From my perspective I'd sure rather this go to a 23-year-old mom with three kids that's got a job but is having a hard time than to the chairman and CEO of Goldman Sachs, but that's just me," Straughan said.

For more information on HPRP, call the Oklahoma Department of Commerce at 405-815-5373.

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