By Conrad Dudderar
Senior Staff Writer
Leaders of Yukon’s three largest non-profit helping agencies believe the community’s homeless issue is real.
While these service agencies have been serving homeless people and transients on a limited basis, their directors say the best solution is to have a safe place for them to stay overnight.
The idea of opening a homeless shelter has been suggested – but the cost of building and operating one presents a real challenge.
Vice Mayor Donna Yanda realizes homelessness is a growing problem.
“I want to help the homeless, but Yukon does not have the resources to address the issue,” Yanda said. “We could possibly look to partner with surrounding cities to work toward a solution, but ideally I would like to see programs developed to prevent it in the first place.”
The homeless problem in this community is “getting bigger and bigger,” according to Yukon Manna Pantry director Sherri Rogers.
The emergency food cupboard, 123 S Sixth, helps feed several homeless clients each month.
“They can come twice a week and get two bags of food,” Rogers said. “We give them ‘pop-top’ cans, bread, and produce, along with peanut butter and jelly, cereal and crackers if they want it.
“We really can’t give them any meat unless it’s canned, like Beanie Weanies. We can’t give them fresh meat because they don’t have any place to keep it. If it’s cold enough, they could keep it outside, but then somebody would probably steal it.”
Manna Pantry needs donations of can openers that its clients can use for regular canned food items.
Rogers noted there are people in Yukon living inside vehicles, in make-shift encampments in wooded areas and other places without roofs over their heads.
Rogers, who became the pantry’s volunteer director last October, said Yukon could use a shelter for homeless to stay and even a soup kitchen to feed them. Manna Pantry has neither the space nor equipment to serve hot meals.
Manna Pantry’s 1,000-square-foot building is in Yukon’s downtown area, which has presented other issues when dealing with the homeless.
“We’ve had them sleeping on our front porch and sleeping out behind the sheds,” Rogers said.
Manna Pantry’s director is calling on Yukon city leaders to address the city’s homeless challenge.
“There needs to be something done to help these people – whether it be a shelter or a church opening their gym at night to let them sleep,” Rogers said. “It’s not so much a problem in the summer, but in the wintertime it’s a concern.”
Missy King, executive director of Yukon Sharing Ministry, said her agency sees homeless people “every week” who come in for help. The Yukon Sharing office, 4 N Sixthth, is downtown on the north side of Main Street.
“What makes it difficult for us is that there’s only certain things we can give them to take with them,” King said. “They often don’t have anything to cook with. It’s hard to help them for an extended amount of time just because they don’t have a place to store food and don’t have refrigeration.”
Yukon Sharing provides food, clothing, household goods, and other necessary services for people who meet income guidelines.
Recipients are asked to provide an address; obviously homeless and transients cannot.
“We have people who are just passing through that we see,” King said. “Just this week, we had someone who’s homeless traveling to California who needed something to eat.”
Until King became Yukon Sharing’s director last August, the longtime Yukon resident was unaware there are homeless areas in this community.
“It has been an eye-opening thing for me,” said King, who had spent the previous 25 years as director of the Aging Services’ program at Redlands Community College.
“While I was working at Redlands in El Reno, it wasn’t a big topic and I hadn’t heard people talk about it. It was very interesting to find there were homeless camps all over town.”
Despite how much Canadian County has grown in recent decades, King noted there really aren’t any adequate places for the homeless population to stay.
“Having a shelter would be a great asset to the county,” Yukon Sharing’s leader said. “We have a lot of people who don’t have anywhere to go when the weather’s bad.
“We can help them to an extent – with food, coats and gloves – but when it’s rainy and cold, they have no place to go. Oklahoma City has shelters that help some but it’s something our county needs to look at. We’re growing and people are coming this direction from Oklahoma City.”
Yukon Sharing recently expanded its hours, to include being open the first Saturday morning each month, to meet growing demands for its services.
“The new Saturday hours are for people who are not able to get here during the week,” King said. “Maybe they work but still need help to get by, or there is some other reason they can’t come in the afternoon during the week.”
Joanne Riley, director of Yukon’s Compassionate Hands, said homeless people have been found sleeping behind the helping ministry’s downtown office, 119 S Sixth.
“We do have a lot of homeless people in Yukon,” Riley said. “It is a problem. How do we best serve those who don’t have a roof over their head?
“That’s something I think the City needs to address because we do have people living in various places, staying between buildings and trying to stay warm. We don’t have a short-term fix, and we definitely don’t have a long-term fix.”
Compassionate Hands sometimes helps transients and people who become stranded in Yukon with no means of transportation by providing gas and money.
A proposed assimilation of Yukon’s three primary social service agencies could ultimately lead to Yukon having a homeless shelter and/or soup kitchen.
“We’re trying to get to that point where we are centralized so we can better help people,” Yukon Sharing’s King said. “A shelter along with something like that could be a good way to help so the homeless are not living behind businesses and other places.”