Tahlequah Daily Press

Local News

May 25, 2012

Local men’s shelter at risk of closing

TAHLEQUAH — Tom Lewis walked through the semi-completed expansion at Project O Si Yo Thursday, pointing out what services could be provided to area homeless men, if only the funding were available.

Lewis, director of the shelter, said unless grant funds or donations become available soon, the operation will cease to exist in September.

“We were hoping to complete this expansion, which would include a cafe in front for our soup kitchen, handicap-accessible showers and bathrooms and dormitory-style beds for 18 additional men,” said Lewis. “This is what we want to get to, but the funding is gone, not only for the expansion, but to keep the existing shelter operating.”

Since opening its doors in 2007, Project O Si Yo has provided housing for approximately 15,000 nights, which include fresh sheets, showers with shave kits, toothbrushes, toothpaste, deodorant and clothing; 45,000 meals in a kitchen where residents prepare their own food or share in meal planning with others; and services to 480 clients who required emergency social service assistance and management.

The shelter provides services through a variety of resources, fundraisers, garage sales, and pledge drives.

“We received a monthly donation from a private resource for the past five years,” said Lewis. “This source is no longer available to us. First Christian Church held a fundraiser this year during Lent, and we recently received a private donation from a lady in Tulsa that will allow us to continue for a couple of more months.”

In addition to providing shelter and food, Project O Si Yo also helps homeless men establish residency status, which is key to obtaining other services from the state.

“People use us as a mailing address to receive food stamps,” said Lewis. “If we close our doors, they will lose that mailing address, and as a result, their food stamps.”

Lewis said they apply for grant funding through Northeastern Oklahoma Continuum of Care in Jay, which is the gatekeeper for homeless shelter grant funding in Northeast Oklahoma.

“We have a board member who is tasked with securing grant funding,” said Lewis. “The process has begun, but because of the way the economy is in Oklahoma, it’s just been tough.”

The physical shelter and accompanying cost of services averages $1,200 per month, with operational costs – insurance, medicine, emergency food,  and transportation – add about $200 per month, or an average cost per person of $3.12 per day.

Project O Si Yo also boasts a healthy community garden, which includes tomatoes, cabbage, broccoli, squash, green beans and other items. The shelter partners with other nonprofits, including the CARE Food Pantry, Help-In-Crisis and Hope House, to provide food for the less fortunate.

“People ask why we don’t sell the food [to help meet operating costs],” said Lewis. “The produce from the garden is obligated to our residents and other agencies. Last year, the first year for the garden, was a learning curve. We’ll have a lot more produce this year.”

Lewis and the board are organizing efforts to approach local businesses, community leaders and state legislators about helping the shelter maintain its services.

Project O Si Yo accepts cash donations, as well as goods appropriate for housing and clothing men.

“If someone wanted to have a benefit garage sale, that would be helpful,” said Lewis. “The most important aspect of the project is to provide respite from the trauma of living on the street. Our goal with fundraising is to protect the shelter, keep it going, continue to raise funds for our soup kitchen due to the food insecurity of Northeast Oklahoma. Commodities and food stamps are not enough. Our food program is designed for children and the elderly, the most vulnerable among us.”

Up to this point, Project O Si Yo has used 100 percent of its proceeds for direct services to those it serves.

“We’re proud of that,” said Lewis. “They [other nonprofit shelters] said it couldn’t be done, but we’ve done it.”

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