Woodward, Okla. —
Earlier this summer, High Plains Outreach Center in Woodward was considering temporarily suspending its services for the homeless.
Kristi Prophet, executive director for the outreach center, said "we had got to the point where we had set a date to suspend services. We had set a date of June 1."
If the suspension had gone forward, she said the Outreach Center would have stopped all in-house services.
"We would still try to assist with resources and in what other ways we could, but we could not afford to continue to take in anymore clients and house them," she said.
However, as people began to hear about the proposed suspension and expressed concerns about even temporarily losing this valuable service, Prophet said the Outreach Center's board of directors decided to "reach out to our donors first in an effort to stay open."
After receiving a little bit of help, she said "we decided to continue to move forward until we absolutely can't go anymore."
But the same problem that had the center thinking about suspending services still exists.
And that problem is "simply a lack of funds," Prophet said.
"I don't know what happened, we seemed to be doing well. We had a successful Ethnic Food Fair in January. But then around March, I don't know if it was because of taxes or what, but the money stopped coming in. It just started to pick back up a bit in June because of our efforts, but we're still in great need of more financial donations," she said.
She said it's become such a financial struggle that the center decided not to hire a replacement day worker when their previous one quit. But even with just 3 employees now, including Prophet and 2 house managers who work the night and weekend shifts, she said that "every 2 weeks we struggle to try and make payroll."
DEBUNKING SOME MYTHS
Prophet said one reason she thinks that donations may be down is because the public may not fully understand what the outreach center does or may misunderstand the purpose of the agency.
"We'd like to debunk some of those myths," she said.
Myth #1: Homelessness doesn't exist in Woodward.
"One thing people don't seem to understand is that homelessness even exists here," Prophet said. "That's because it's not as visible as it would be in a big city. We don't have people on the street corners with signs or people under bridges."
However, just because they're not out on the street doesn't mean that they're aren't people in the area who are struggling without a place to call home.
"In my research I've found that in rural areas many of the homeless live with family. So they don't appear homeless because they're not out on the street, but they don't have a residence of their own," she said.
And staying with family is not a permanent solution.
"In fact that's how many of them end up here, at our center, because their family gets tired of having them," Prophet said.
Myth #2: High Plains Outreach Center is a rescue mission.
"We are not a shelter, we are not a mission agency; we provide transitional housing," Prophet said. "We're here to help those who want to help themselves."
In fact, for those seeking a place to stay at the Outreach Center, she said, "we require they find work if they are not already working."
However, there are those in the community who may not realize this and may think twice about donating to the Outreach Center because "they feel they've worked hard for what they've got, and they didn't get any charity, so why should they give their hard earned money to someone wanting a hand out," Prophet said.
"People have such a bad image of the homeless, they have that inner city image of people who are dirty and panhandling, just beggars," she said. "But the homeless here look like everyday people you see in town. They may be the person waiting on you at a restaurant or maybe the person who carries out your groceries. They're everywhere."
Prophet said the Outreach Center just provides temporary housing and not ongoing assistance. She said clients are allowed to stay for up to 30 days while they seek employment and new housing.
She said the reason the center only provides temporary shelter is because for the most part, "Homelessness is a temporary circumstance, not a permanent condition."
"While we do help some people who are just passing through, that's not the majority. The majority are those willing to work, but just need the time that they're here, those 30 days, to get back up on their feet and to find a more permanent place to stay," she said.
Myth #3: Homelessness can't happen to me.
Prophet said this myth also ties into the myth in which some people think the homeless somehow deserve their predicament because they are lazy or made bad decisions.
"Homelessness is not always a matter of bad choices," she said. "Life happens to us all."
A variety of bad circumstances can lead to someone becoming homeless, she said.
"I don't think people set out to be homeless," Prophet said, noting "For most it's maybe from losing a job or medical bills that cause their finances to spin out of control into homelessness."
Even natural disasters can lead to homelessness.
"I think they helped a couple of people after last year's tornado in Woodward," Prophet said. "I wasn't here then so I don't know exactly, but I do know we've had a couple this year from the Oklahoma City tornadoes. One was a woman who came to Woodward because she had family here she thought she could stay with. But that didn't work out, so she came to us. The other was a gentleman who after he lost everything down there came out here to take advantage of all the jobs in the oilfield."
Prophet said these stories should help more people realize that homelessness could potentially affect anyone.
"If more people could realize that it could happen to you, then it might increase people's sensitivity to it," she said.
And in turn increase people's willingness to support the Outreach Center, she said.
HOW YOU CAN HELP
If you would like to help provide support for the outreach center and its efforts to help the working homeless, Prophet said there are 2 ways you can get involved.
"The first is to commit to making a consistent monthly monetary donation. And the second is to volunteer," she said.
Prophet said the center is looking to expand its volunteer base as a way to make up for an employee position that was eliminated to help save on costs. She said these volunteers would "basically help at the front desk, answering the phones, taking donations and have some interaction with the clients."
In addition to office help, Prophet said she is also looking for volunteers with other skills, such as someone who might help with maintenance problems when they crop up from time to time, or "even someone to help with social media and get us started with that."
But volunteers can still only help so much, especially when the Outreach Center continues to face high operation costs.
That's why monetary donations are extremely important, Prophet said, because "our operations run anywhere from $8,500 to $10,000 a month."
"I know that may sound like a lot, but on our quarterly months, when we have quarterly taxes and insurance fees to pay, it can easily jump to $10,000 that month," she said.
These operational costs also include monthly utility fees and other living expenses in addition to payroll, she said.
To further offset these expenses, Prophet said that in addition to her campaign to find more monthly donors, she also continues to plan various fundraisers to help earn a few extra dollars.
For instance, this weekend the Outreach Center will be hosting a yard sale. Prophet said she is calling it the "Christmas in July Sale," because she recently "found about 9 tubs of Christmas decorations in our storage and we don't need all that so we're going to sell some of it."
In addition to the holiday decor, the sale will feature a couple of televisions, miscellaneous knickknacks, and "lots of clothes," she said. The sale will begin at 7 a.m. this Saturday, July 13 at the Outreach Center, which is located at 1220 7th St.
For another fundraiser, the shelter has partnered with Crystal Beach Water Park for one of its "community day" charity events. On Aug. 1, the Outreach Center will receive 80 percent of all admission fees for the water park collected between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m.
Through this event, Prophet said the public can go enjoy the water park and help the Outreach Center at the same time.
To find out more about High Plains Outreach Center, make a donation or sign up to be a volunteer, call the center at (580) 254-5162. Or you can visit the center during regular business hours at 1220 7th St.