Grace Day Center temporarily closes for 60-days Leadership evaluation, seeks community help

Wulf James-Roby
The Daily Ardmoreite

The Grace Center of Southern Oklahoma will close its Grace Day Center, a daytime shelter program for the homeless and housing insecure, for 60 days beginning Wednesday, Jan. 5, 2022. The Center plans to reopen the program on Monday, March 7, 2022. The difficult decision comes after an exponential increase in individuals accessing the Grace Day Center over the last year.  

“When we have overnight shelter programs aren't running it creates a crisis and in some ways that has contributed to the Grace Center struggling,” said Grace Center executive director Laura Akers.  

Specifically, the staff has served an increasing number of chronic and unsheltered homeless individuals. Many suffer from mental health and substance abuse disorders as well as unresolved traumas. A year ago, in January 2021, the Grace Day Center averaged 26 individuals visiting the shelter in a day. Last month, the Grace Day Center average rose to 61 individuals, an all-time high for the organization.  

“With the current staff and location, the Grace Center Board of Directors does not feel it is appropriate to continue the program until an in-depth evaluation can be conducted,” Carolyn McElroy, board member of the Grace Center of Southern Oklahoma, said. “Over the next 60 days, Grace Day Center staff will research day center models and present a plan for operating the Grace Day Center with fewer program participants. Grace Center leadership will begin exploring opportunities to increase partnerships and referrals with other social service agencies, community organizations, and nonprofits.”  

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The Grace Day Center opened in fall 2009 as a solution-based program to provide homeless individuals, many of whom were staying at one of the two Ardmore overnight shelter programs, a respite from the downtown streets during the daytime. The Grace Day Center offers individuals the opportunity to bathe, wash clothing, access technology, store key items, assist with identification documentation, and be referred to other agencies for additional services, including employment and housing.  

Nationally, data suggests that the homeless population is increasing. According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the number of people experiencing homelessness nationwide increased by two percent between 2019 and 2020. Researchers connect the growth to the swelling population of unsheltered homeless, individuals who do not access overnight shelter programs.  

In late January 2021, Ardmore homeless service providers participated in a Point-In-Time Count, an annual survey of homeless individuals in a community, organized by the Ardmore Homeless Coalition. Carter County recorded 45 people experiencing unsheltered homelessness. Ten people were counted as experiencing homelessness in emergency shelter programs. In total, 129 individuals were documented as experiencing homelessness. 

 “As a community, shelter – both day and night – is part of a continuum and safety net for homeless individuals and families,” Akers said. “Between late July and early November, for the first time in 20 years, Ardmore was no longer home to overnight shelter programs for homeless residents. Children of the King Baptist Church closed its 20-year-old shelter ministry program for renovations. Salvation Army Ardmore closed its shelter due to a staffing shortage. Grace Center leadership believes that as a community, investments are needed to ensure that all parts of the continuum are solid for any effect on lowering the homeless population. This month, Grace Center leadership will embark on discussions with government leaders, law enforcement, leaders from behavioral and addiction services, business leaders, law enforcement, and funders to discuss the future of a day shelter program in Ardmore. Grace Center leadership is committed to an evaluation and believes that day shelter services are needed. What revisions can be made to better serve homeless residents and the community?”  

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The Grace Center of Southern Oklahoma functions through two interrelated arms: the Grace Day Center and the Grace Resource Center. Southern Oklahomans have long turned to the Grace Resource Center for emergency financial assistance for utilities, rent, prescriptions, and education. The temporary closure of the Grace Day Center will not impact services offered by the Grace Resource Center, which will remain open for its services along with its new focused housing solutions programs, such as Rapid Re-Housing. 

“A lot of people have made comments that they thought the Grace Resource Center didn’t exist anymore,” Akers said. “The Resource Center program has never stopped. In some ways it has been at its busiest, having expanded with some housing casework in the past few years. We know the prevention piece is important for Ardmore.”  

The Grace Resource Center has been a program that works to prevent homelessness for more than 20 years. Financial assistance for rent and utilities has been available to families, people with disabilities, single parents, veterans, and others at risk to help keep life saving utilities on or prevent eviction and homelessness. With unprecedented amount of applications since March 2020, the beginning of COVID, the program has not slowed down,” Akers said. “In fact, from January 1 to December 31 of 2021, Resource Center programs impacted 467 unique households.”   

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The Resource Center side will still be able to help unhoused individuals with clothing, coats or food to go, and will continue to refer to programs and resources for those experiencing homelessness, Akers said. “We are focusing on reopening with a program that meets the needs of our homeless community and also our greater ardmore community,” Akers said.  

“It’s a very heartbreaking and a difficult decision to make,” McElroy said. “The Grace Center will emerge a stronger organization with its continued commitment to serve our neighbors in need.” To learn more about the Grace Center programs and services, call the Grace Center at 580-223-2027.