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Carrie's Corner: Helping Those Experiencing Homelessness

By Carrie Slatton-Hodges
Friday, April 16, 2021

"And homeless near a thousand homes I stood" - William Wordsworth

Over the past year, thousands of Oklahomans have lost jobs and housing through no fault of their own. The economy crumbled as the pandemic swept through the state, and workers across the board were laid off or furloughed. Few industries were spared, with cuts impacting those in the service industry and the oil field, to medicine and the media.

Cars were lined up for miles to obtain food at local charities and churches, including here in Oklahoma. Many people never thought they’d never find themselves in this situation.

For almost anyone, this type of traumatic experience is difficult. But for someone with a mental health or addiction issue, it can be overwhelming.

Where a person works and where they live are two major sources of identity.

Those recovering from mental health and addiction issues can face varied work-related challenges and, in the past, were sometimes even discouraged from working. 

Today, we know that work plays a vital role in recovery, providing meaningful purpose and increasing one’s sense of self-worth. 

While most people experiencing mental health and addiction issues live independently in their own homes, cascading effects can leave others in a precarious housing situation or cause them to lose their homes. 

Having a safe and secure place to live is a critical part of recovery, along with having access to services that allows those in recovery to live as independently as possible. 

The pandemic has impacted both housing and employment in unprecedented ways. 

Yet even before the pandemic, homelessness numbers in Oklahoma City, at least, were headed in the wrong direction.

The 2020 Point in Time count found the number of unsheltered people rose by 45%, which is a significant increase. The total population of homeless people increased by 24% and the number of people considered chronically homeless was 60% higher than in 2019. Additionally, the number of people in emergency shelters rose by 15%, with a 10% increase in transitional housing. 

Of the adults surveyed in this year’s count, 26% self-reported as having a severe mental illness and 33% as having a substance use addiction.

We try to reach every person who needs our help. Our Employment and Housing Division has been working overtime for the past year, with incredible results.

  • Last year, ODMHSAS programs focused on employment as a strategy toward long-term recovery realized an 8.6% decrease in unemployment, resulting in 540 newly employed individuals. 

  • Our programs focused on housing as a strategy toward long-term recovery realized a 20.4% reduction in homelessness.

  • Also, these programs contributed to a nearly 30% reduction in 12-month arrests, keeping our clients out of the criminal justice system.

ODMHSAS offers a spectrum of housing options for Oklahomans in need, including permanent supportive housing; supervised and supported transitional housing; rental assistance; youth housing subsidies; emergency shelters and host homes.

Four of our Community Mental Health Centers offer Projects for Assistance in Transition from Homelessness (PATH) services, with about 450 homeless individuals enrolled. 

Housing First – the concept that housing is one of the most basic components of recovery – is our cornerstone. Without a place to call home, it is difficult to focus on all the other steps needed to achieve recovery.

When hundreds of people were commuted from prison this year, our team assisted Department of Corrections in setting up a rapid response process to address housing and discharge planning across the state.  We distributed housing funds to over 13 partners across the state to place nearly 90 individuals/families in safe, affordable housing.   

This also was our first year to receive monies to directly fund emergency shelter beds for youth.  More than 80 youth ages 15-22 received emergency shelter beds and connections to support services.  Twelve found permanent safe, affordable housing and six were re-unified with family.  

Employment embodies recovery for people with a mental health or substance use issue. 

Oklahoma employs the evidence-based model of Individual Placement and Support (IPS) to help unemployed young adults and others find suitable employment.

ODMHSAS implemented the Individual Placements and Supports (IPS) model in 29 counties to increase pathways to gainful employment and permanent housing for more than 35% of the state. 

Clients engaged with IPS are 60% more likely to be competitively employed within nine months. Other benefits include decreases in hospital admissions, and increases in quality of life and symptom management abilities. 

Life is so much more enjoyable with a meaningful job and a place to call home.

Stable housing and employment make the rest of life’s challenges easier to manage. 

Once someone has a safe and affordable place to live and flexible services available, lives and futures can be transformed.

We are proud to help Oklahomans find services and solutions in both these areas. For more information about our programs, visit

Carrie Slatton-Hodges, Commissioner

Carrie Slatton-Hodges is currently serving as the Commissioner for the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services. Prior to her current role, Carrie served 12 years as the Deputy Commissioner for ODMHSAS, overseeing treatment and recovery services through state operated and contracted treatment providers statewide. Carrie has a strong commitment to mental health and addiction recovery for Oklahomans and believes we all deserve to live a valuable, productive life in the community.

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