By Shaun Hittle
OKLAHOMA CITY —
Nearly 4,400 homeless Oklahomans were identified during the 2013 statewide count of homeless people, reflecting a slight decrease over two years ago, according to numbers released this week by state officials.
The statewide Point-in-Time Homeless Count, which is conducted in January and mandated by the federal government every two years, seeks to identify each state’s homeless population. Some cities, including Oklahoma City and Tulsa, also do homeless counts in other years, but the statewide count is biennial.
January’s count of 4,385 homeless persons in eight Oklahoma regions was down from the 4,568 persons identified during the 2011 count. But Rebekah Zahn-Pittser, program manager with the Oklahoma Department of Commerce who helped coordinate collection of the data, cautioned that the numbers are simply a snapshot of homelessness on one particular day.
In addition, how the count is conducted has changed over the years, as have definitions of homelessness, she said.
“2013 would be the first year we have really good numbers,” Zahn-Pittser said, adding that better methods have evolved over years and were further improved this year. Numbers for the entire country are not yet available.
The volunteers who conduct the count also ask a variety of questions to help categorize the homeless and allow service providers to better understand homelessness.
This year’s count identified the following sub-categories of the homeless population:
• 437 homeless veterans
• 1057 with a severe mental illness
• 1063 with a substance abuse disorder
• 874 homeless children
Oklahoma Watch is a nonprofit organization that produces in-depth and investigative journalism on important public-policy issues facing the state.