Mobile crisis response: City to buy van for resident transportation


12--A Norman City Council-led committee has given staff the green light to explore the purchase of a van that would serve the needs of the unhoused and those in need of community services. The Oversight Committee agreed to let City Attorney Kathryn Walker draft a request for proposal to contract with a transportation service provider and purchase a van during its Thursday night meeting. A final draft of the request for proposal would come before the committee sometime in January, Walker said.

As discussed by the committee, the van would provide transportation for people who need to get to medical and mental health appointments, food service providers, emergency shelters and related agencies for housing and other needs. City Manager Darrel Pyle described the potential for a fluid program depending in part on the service providers who respond to the request for proposal. Providers could propose "levels of service that we had not contemplated, that could really fit a gap in services recently identified by the folks at Homebase," he said.

Homebase, Inc. identified transportation services as a need in a study. The nonprofit organization was hired by the council in January 2021 to evaluate services for the unhoused in Norman and Cleveland County. Among the report's gaps analysis in services, seven areas emerged as potential goals for the city to pursue, according to the report.

"The fourth system gap is to address transportation to employment, services and shelter," committee chair Lee Hall read from the Homebase report summary. "Develop a comprehensive transportation strategy and partnership with local transit authorities -- I think we're already at work on that in realizing that we need routes in different places, priorities in town, bus stops in places in town that we were not able to adjust until now." The city's Community Transportation and Planning Committee is studying the city's long range transit plan for future bus stops and routes as it also eyes "micro transit" and smaller transportation methods like contracts with rideshare companies to fill in gaps for transportation. Story continues

Walker told The Transcript after the meeting that money to pay for the van and contract with a service provider would be allocated from the £500,000 the council set aside in June 2021 for community programs. Since July 2020, the Oversight Committee and council planned to save up money to launch a city-managed mobile crisis unit program. Staff looked to a model program in Eugene, Oregon that staffed vans with mental health professionals to respond to people in crisis as a way to divert people from jail and pair them with services in the community.

The city has two mobile crisis units operated through service providers contracted with the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services. The department is planning a £17 million statewide expansion of that program and will establish a dedicated hotline and call center for the service. Other business

The city's Homeless Program Coordinator Michelle Evans provided numbers Thursday on the unhoused population in the county. The data reported was from "agency partners" who participate in the Continuum of Care. The CoC's agencies provide housing services to the community.

"Each week, at our coordinated case management meeting, they're giving us these numbers," Evans said. She reported at least 160 are actively unhoused in the county "as of Nov.

30," of which three are in "secured housing" and 31 are on a housing plan. The presentation showed 46 are staying in either the Salvation Army's emergency shelter or the city's.

Evans explained to the committee that 160 are those who have completed a housing assessment and "not all that are known" to be unhoused. Based on a previous count of homeless individuals, Evans estimated the real number to be 300 in the county, she said. The city's shelter assisted 111 unduplicated or unique visitors in September, 113 in October and 130 in November, the presentation reads.

Since October, the city's Ad Hoc Committee to Address Homelessness meetings were suspended after Hall announced the oversight committee would take on updates and plans moving forward based on the Homebase report, The Transcript reported.

Mindy Wood covers City Hall news and notable court cases for The Transcript.

Reach her at [email protected] or 405-416-4420.