On Thursday, Jan. 23, representatives of federal and local agencies and volunteers will hit the streets, looking for homeless people so they can be included in the nationwide Point-in-Time count.
"It's a way of documenting the homeless in the area," said Lisa Look, Tribal Housing and Urban Development-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing case manager. "We go out into the streets, into encampments, shelters, and the school systems."
HUD initiated the housing inventory count for the sheltered and unsheltered. Most people sought for the count probably don't have the resources and means to answer the Census.
"I'm glad HUD came up with this, because if you are homeless, do you have a mailbox or a door to knock on? We go out and meet homeless where they live and congregate," said Look.
Look said that any community-based organization that provides services to individuals living in the margins - whether homeless, experiencing mental illness, medical conditions, or poverty - often get funding from HUD.
The numbers counted equal federal money to the state and communities. Data collected will be reported to the Northeastern Oklahoma Community Outreach Council, which will submit the tallies to the federal level.
"It's money to reduce the number of homeless," said Look. "We want to find them affordable housing and give them assistance they need. We want to help them thrive and reach goals, and to improve the quality of lives."
The survey is voluntary and nonidentifiable. It asks gender, age, situation of living conditions, and if there are any children, elderly or disabled.
Along with working for HUD-VASH, Look is a case manager and social worker at the Jack C. Montgomery VA Medical Center in Muskogee. She has been assisting the Cherokee Nation Housing Authority to identify veterans who are homeless, or on the verge of becoming homeless, since 2016.
"We have housed 30 veterans through the program since 2016, although I think the number is actually 45," said Look. "Anybody can experience homelessness, just like anyone can experience mental health issues or a medical emergency. Many of us are one paycheck away from losing our homes or from couch jumping. There are also a lot of crowded living conditions, where there are multiple generations under one roof."
Look is on the steering committee for the Tahlequah Resource Outreach Team. TROT has been working to combat the rise in homelessness in the area, and identify resources for those in need. Homeless camps in Tahlequah have been pinpointed, but Look said there are more outside city limits.
Homeless or marginalized students in schools are also being identified.
"A couple of teachers are reporting agents for homeless families, which means homeless children," said Look.
To do the count, Look and others must know where those who are unsheltered, or who have temporary shelter, are. Look and team members will go to the Tahlequah Day Center at 10 a.m. that Thursday, and target locations such as the public library, chain stores, and parks.
"We are going to try to start early, right about the time the sun comes up. When the sun's up, they're out and about going places to get warm or use the bathroom," she said. "We will have bottled water and doughnuts when we go out, and will be armed with resources."
Currently, Look and her partner for the area, Louise Musselman of Kibois/Supportive Services for Veteran Families in Muskogee, will make up two teams with two volunteers each.
"We're blessed through TROT to have four volunteers put their names down," said Look. "We welcome more; the more volunteers, the better. If I had five volunteers per team, that would help cover the area."
Volunteers must be 18 or older, and they are encouraged to watch a video tutorial on the HUD website.
"It talks about the dialogue - the script used to approach people," said Look.
Also needed are donations and community organization participation for the Tahlequah Resource Fair, scheduled for April 9, 10 a.m.-1 p.m., at the Tahlequah United Methodist Church, 300 W. Delaware St.
"Community-based providers will be on hand to talk about housing, help with Social Security cards, state IDs, clothing, and mental health. We have 25, but I'm hoping for 50," said Look. "We will also hand out gift bags with hygiene items and cold weather gear."
Look said she hopes to strengthen the numbers of people in the area to address this issue, and for the community to be aware and to spread the information about the resource fair.
"It's not something to be swept under the rug or treated like the plague. These are people; they need respect and assistance," said Look.
To volunteer for the Point-in-Time count, donate items or set up at the Resource Fair, or to report homeless encampments, call Lisa Look at 918-616-8794 and leave a detailed voicemail.