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Another step closer: Ardmore community leaders tour apartments envisioned as homeless lodging, resource center

Sierra Rains
srains@ardmoreite.com
Ardmore community leaders, many in the nonprofit sector, tour the Willow Brook Apartments Thursday morning. The apartments are being considered as a space for a lodging and resource center for people experiencing homelessness.

The Willow Brook Apartments are one step closer to becoming a lodging and resource center for people experiencing homelessness in Ardmore. 

On Thursday, Sept. 10, Impact Ardmore Director Misty Apala, who had the initial vision for the Neighbor’s House Lodging and Resource Center, was joined by several representatives from community resource centers and nonprofits to tour the apartments and get a taste for how the space could be used. 

“I want to be preemptive as possible in seeing the reality of what it would take for this to become a reality," Apala said. "It’s going to take a lot more than just my passion to make it happen."

The apartments, located at 115 Monroe Avenue Northeast, have 76 units on site, with the potential to house 150 people. Representatives from the Grace Center, Boys and Girls Club, Good Shepherd, Wichita Mountains Prevention Network, Ardmore Fire Department, City of Ardmore and more walked through the facility on Thursday.

For many, this was not a question of “Should we do this?” but more of “How do we do this?” Though the details are still being hashed out, Apala shared her vision with those on the tour. 

Two buildings will be used for rapid rehousing, with low rent payments that will help redirect funds back into the Neighbor’s House. This option will ideally be the last step in getting families into a permanent housing situation. 

Two other buildings will be used for transitional housing, one for families or single parents and the other for single individuals. Residents at the Neighbor's House would be required to participate in community service work.

The last large section of the building will be separated into spaces for a veteran lodge, emergency overnight lodging and on-site resource offices. The main office will be used as a soup kitchen, laundry room, lobby and more office space.

An example of how the space at the Willow Brook Apartments could be used for a lodging and resource center for people experiencing homelessness.

The details on security as still being worked out, but some ideas include 24/7 video surveillance, an on-site security guard, inspections, partnerships with local law enforcement and a drug and alcohol free environment. 

“This is a huge piece of property and it is literally just sitting there,” Apala said. “I just believe that there is so much space available on this property for us to reach every level of homelessness that we have in our community.”

The apartments have been vacant ever since a new housing development went up and the former residents were moved into the space. Apala said the property owner, Lance Windel, was open to suggestions for the space and was excited by the idea of being able to help the community out. 

The main vision for the Neighbor’s House is to move homeless individuals and families into lodging as quickly as possible, while also providing supportive services through local resource partners. 

“A picture of success for me looks like an entire community working together to alleviate homelessness at any level,” Apala said. “It’s simply giving someone a pillow while all of us come together and give them an opportunity to receive a hand-up and become long term successful with some of the basic tools that we all have to offer.” 

Ardmore community leaders tour the Willow Brook Apartments on Thursday, Sept. 10.

During the initial intake process, Apala said individuals will be evaluated to determine their reasons for needing lodging and the barriers that need to be addressed in order to help them become successful. A tailored care plan will be created and the individuals will receive any immediate resources needed, eventually being guided through long-term resources until they are ready to move to a more permanent dwelling. 

Many people from across different backgrounds stated that they have seen the need for a facility like the Neighbor's House in Ardmore firsthand.

Valisa Booker, the Unit Director at the Ardmore Boys and Girls Club, said she and some of her staff often stay well past close to provide snacks and a space for children to do their homework, because some families don’t know where they’re going to be staying for the night. 

“I have to do it for the families because if I don’t participate and help out these families they’re going to turn to the streets,” Booker said. “I’m just giving them one moment of encouragement to continue to trust that it will get better — one day and hopefully soon.”

Kori Thompson, a local real estate agent, said there is a lack of affordable housing in Ardmore and there needs to be a solution where families can have a roof over their heads while also seeking community resources to help them get back on their feet. 

“I just love the idea and I love being able to connect. I hope that I can be a part of whatever it is that this is going to be because we definitely need prevention,” Thompson said. “People don’t understand what’s really going on in Ardmore unless you can actually see it.”

A group walks through one of the rooms at the Willow Brook Apartments that would be used to help house individuals experiencing homelessness.

In Sept. 2019, the Grace Center conducted an internal survey with the clients of the Grace Day Center, which serves homeless residents by helping them meet their basic needs and connecting them to resources. Out of the 150 clients surveyed, 96, or 64%, considered themselves locals. 

The Grace Center identified 118 of those individuals as high needs, meaning they had severe mental health needs, substance abuse problems, medical issues or were pregnant. Only 20 were identified as violent, whereas they had violent outbursts or carried weapons. 

Grace Center Director Laura Akers said the organization plans to conduct another survey this fall and pursue a Point-In-Time count to get a better snapshot of the homeless population. 

“We are really struggling with homelessness and it’s not just the persons that we can see sleeping on our sidewalks, but it’s the families that are sleeping in their vehicles and using the lake and using the park and the Flying J Travel Stop to bathe their kids in at night,” Apala said. 

Other details such as how to pay for the lodging and resource center still require some brainstorming. Apala suggested the possibility of a campaign to raise money or seeking funds through federal and state grants. The goal remains to have the center open before bad winter weather hits the area and Apala plans to meet with community leaders once again in October to discuss the next steps. 

Individuals tour the potential office space of the Neighbor's House in Ardmore.

“As you’ve seen when we walked through that facility today there is no reason for anyone to be sleeping in the bushes at the park, at the train station, at the homeless camps,” Apala said. “This is not an Impact Ardmore lodging facility. All of you are here because I believe this is for all of us to take a piece of. I think it will take all of us to make this happen.” 

More information about the Neighbor’s House Lodging and Resource Center will soon be available on Impact Ardmore’s website at www.impactardmore.org. Anyone interested in following or wanting to be a part of the project can contact Impact Ardmore at (580) 504-5771 or mapala@impactardmore.org.