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Ardmore nonprofit seeks to turn apartment complex into homeless shelter housing around 150 people

Sierra Rains
srains@ardmoreite.com
The Willow Brook Apartments. A nonprofit in Ardmore is currently in negotiations to turn the complex into a shelter and housing program called the Neighbor’s House.

Tarps propped up against buildings and sleeping bags in alley ways have increasingly been appearing around Ardmore. With limited space available in homeless shelters, a local nonprofit is seeking to add an additional 150 beds to the area with the acquisition of an empty apartment complex.  

Impact Ardmore, a nonprofit that focuses on community service, is currently in negotiations with the property owners of the Willow Brook Apartments, located on 115 Monroe Avenue Northeast, to turn the complex into a shelter and housing program called the Neighbor’s House. 

Impact Ardmore Director Misty Apala said the facility would serve as an overnight shelter with minimal barriers for entry and as a short-term shelter for families and individuals that are on a rental list or are trying to get into Section Eight or low-income housing. 

Currently there are only three counties in southern Oklahoma that have shelters for individuals experiencing homelessness, Apala said. The population in those counties averages to around 129,000 people and most shelters can only house around 80 people at a time. 

“It’s not even about people just getting a place to stay, it’s that they don’t have a place to stay so they’re sleeping on sidewalks and behind fences and they’re staying out on the streets because there’s nowhere for them to go,” Apala said. “A lot of what people are looking for is an umbrella fix and that’s not what we need.”

The idea behind the Neighbor’s House is to help individuals experiencing homelessness get back on their feet by giving them a place to rest their heads at night. A stable place will ideally help them feel safer and they can then begin to utilize community resources to obtain mental health counseling, budgeting classes or whatever services they need to achieve long-term stability. 

“It helps the community, it helps clean up our streets, and it also allows us to partner with resources in our community and get some long-term help based on individual needs,” Apala said. “A lot of times you can’t expect someone to get better or even have the want to go to rehab or to go to mental health counseling whenever they don’t even have a safe place to lay their head down at night.”

Apala said she wishes the shelter could open as soon as tomorrow. While individuals will have to wait a little longer, the goal is to have the facility open before winter weather comes to Oklahoma. The project, however, is not just an Impact Ardmore project — it’s a community-wide project. 

“It is going to take our entire community coming together to make this successful and we are excited to be as inclusive as possible with anyone who wants to partner and help grow this program,” Apala said. 

On Sept. 10, the nonprofit plans to tour the apartments with other community partners and resource centers to show them the vision for the Neighbor’s House. The opening of the facility will also take a lot of support from the community. Apala said they will need volunteers to help run the type of facility envisioned, as well as monetary donations and donations of items like bedding. 

“I think that it starts with having a little compassion and knowing that there’s a process,” Apala said. “We’re not trying to provide a handout, we want to provide a ‘hand up’ and create a safe place for these individuals so there can be conversations of walking them through what it is they need to be helped long term, to be successful in life long term.”

While there are many reasons individuals end up becoming homeless, Apala said mental health and financial problems remain some of the most prominent. Karlie Harper, who regularly works with individuals experiencing homelessness as the Day Center director at the Grace Center, told The Ardmoreite a huge number of the homeless population has severe mental illness such as Schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. 

Unaddressed mental health issues make it difficult for individuals to hold or find a job and some individuals wind up being evicted as a result. It can also be difficult for individuals experiencing homelessness to find counseling or therapy services without insurance in the Ardmore area. 

Apala said the rent prices in Ardmore, generally starting around $500 to $600, are often difficult for lower income families to afford and the COVID-19 pandemic has added increased financial difficulties. 

“I have never been homeless as far as living on the sidewalk,” Apala said. “But my family for a long period of our lives, when our kids were young, we lived a lifestyle that was low income and my husband and I both had to utilize resources in our community to help be able to do the basic things like pay our utilities to keep them on so that our kids would have water and electricity.”

Apala said it took the kindness of individuals willing to help her family find resources tailored to their needs for her family to keep their home and their utilities running. This struggle is a part of why Apala said she feels so passionately about the Neighbor’s House project. 

“I just have a real passion to do what was done for me at a period in my life and I want to see basic humanity and love be shared across our community because I have received that and I know the power that it has whenever someone will just give you a little kindness and compassion,” Apala said. 

Anyone interested in following or wanting to be a part of the project can visit the Impact Ardmore Facebook page or contact Impact Ardmore at mapala@impactardmore.org

or (580) 504-5771 to get on an email list. The email list will contain updates on the progress and what is needed to move forward.