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Since 2004, the Governor’s Interagency Council on Homelessness has worked across political lines to create solutions and support for a statewide approach to eradicating homelessness. So, Greg Shin, a former chair of the state council, was just as shocked as millions of other Oklahomans when Republican Governor Kevin Stitt abruptly disbanded it.
“Every state has this council. Oklahoma will be the only state without a council. It doesn’t make any sense,” Shin told The Black Wall Street Times.
More than 10% of homeless adults were accompanied by children, according to a 2023 Point-in-Time Count for Tulsa.
In his announcement last week, Gov. Stitt emphasized the importance of maintaining small government, even though the council didn’t receive any state funds. One reporter recorded him claiming the council didn’t do anything to “move the needle forward” on homelessness.
Stitt built his fortune in the mortgage industry, and his company Gateway Mortgage has been banned in Georgia due to making misleading statements to lenders. He’s also been sanctioned in others states for making bad mortgages. His company was placed on Business Insider’s 15 shadiest companies list.
In his response to media questions, Stitt also failed to describe any alternative statewide plans in place to address homelessness,” 2 News reported. The disbanding of the council came before it had a chance to release its next five-year plan.
It also comes as homelessness rates are on the rise. In Tulsa for instance, 1,133 homeless persons were counted in 2023 versus 1,063 in 2022, according to the annual Point-in-Time counts performed each January.
Disbanding the council impacts homeless youth
Greg Shin is Chief Housing Officer for the Mental Health Association of Oklahoma. He served on the Governor’s Interagency Council on Homelessness for nearly 10 years and once served as chair. A combination of nonprofits and state agencies, the 26-member council works to collaborate and provide collective impact on evidence-based solutions to addressing homelessness. They then provide annual reports that go to the governor and the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness.
While mental health and drug use are often barriers to people gaining adequate housing, the lack of affordable housing is seen as one of the biggest barriers to getting people housed. Oklahoma also has one of the highest eviction rates and poverty rates in the nation.
Yet in disbanding the council, Governor Stitt didn’t appear concerned with that aspect of the issue.
“We have investments in mental health. We need to force these folks to get into mental health facilities, but we’re not going to allow tents. As long as I’m Governor of Oklahoma, we’re not going to build housing,” Gov. Stitt said.
Meanwhile, in a conversation with The Black Wall Street Times, Shin detailed how homelessness impacts the state’s youth.
“We all know that youth that are getting services through DHS or part of juvenile system or foster care, those are very vulnerable young people,” Shin told The Black Wall Street Times. “They often don’t have completed education or access to wealth or income. This is a highly vulnerable population that continues to age out and go into homelessness at unacceptable rates.”
Nearly 24,000 public school kids face homelessness in Oklahoma, according to the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness.
While Shin said he appreciated the Governor saying the council had done good work, he warned the work is incomplete.
“I think it really has a big impact on the education and advocacy effort,” Shin said.
Homelessness unequal across race
Shin also noted how homelessness disproportionately impacts Black and Native Oklahomans more severely. Sometimes, Shin said, the homelessness population of these groups is double their share of the state population, according to Census data.
For instance, despite Black people making up roughly 15% of the Tulsa population, 24% of homeless persons in the city identified as Black in 2023.
“We need to bring that to the table and continue to shine a light on that with all communities across the state. That’s not solved on a local level. It takes everybody talking about it. I just feel like we’re not even close,” Shin said.
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