Two submit proposals to run city shelter

·3 min read

Jul. 2—Two prominent nonprofits that work closely with unhoused people in Norman have submitted requests for proposal to build a new overnight shelter to the city following the closure of the city's former shelter.

Food & Shelter Inc. is one of two agencies to submit a proposal to contract with the city for shelter services, said Director April Doshier. The Salvation Army also submitted a proposal, said city spokesperson Tiffany Vrska.

The Transcript requested copies of the proposals, but the city declined due to the presence of "proprietary information" contained in the proposals. Vrska agreed to submit them with redactions as soon as possible.

Vrska said she was "unsure how long the process" of awarding the proposal would take.

The city's emergency homeless shelter closed June 27, but a timeline for reopening one remains uncertain, Vrska said. The city was forced to shutter its shelter at 325 E. Comanche Street after the landlord informed the city that the insurance policy expired and would not renew it.

The landlord had chosen not to renew the lease, which was set to expire in August.

With no other options to immediately relocate the shelter, staff sent out a request for proposal to the city's agencies to contract for shelter services. The deadline to return proposals was Thursday.

The city has struggled to find a new home for the shelter for months. It had negotiated to use an empty building owned by the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services near Main and Reed Avenue. However, the agency then announced it would be unable to do so after it decided to sell much of its campus to raise money for a new mental health hospital, the newspaper reported.

It was a plan fraught with objections from residents and two councilors who bristled at the idea of placing a low barrier shelter near services for children which include a charter school. Ward 3 and Ward 5 Kelly Lynn pointed out the location would not comply with state law that forbids registered sex offenders reside within 2,000 feet of schools, parks, daycare centers and other establishments where children gather. They also expressed concern that sex offenders would come to the shelter regardless.

Meanwhile, the city has applied for a $5 million grant in American Rescue Plan Act funds in state coffers to fund a shelter facility. Staff expect to have answers sometime this month for numerous grants it has requested.

Vrska said last month that city shelter case workers increased their efforts to find housing for those who would be displaced by the closure. Food & Shelter Inc's April Doshier said her agency would consider offering shelter services.

In the meantime, Food & Shelter is extending its hours during the heat starting Friday.

"Food and Shelter submitted a proposal to the City of Norman to lease and operate a low barrier shelter," Doshier said. "Though we feel optimistic about our plan, we have to address the dangerous heat coming up. Our only option has been to hire staff to extend our hours to allow more cooling options for our friends on the street. Starting today, we will be open daily until 8 pm. We have definitely seen more requests for motel stays and a higher number of people medically impacted by the heat. We are doing the very best we can with our current level of resources."

The Salvation Army also operates a shelter. A request for comment was not immediately returned Friday.

Mindy Wood covers City Hall news and notable court cases for The Transcript. Reach her at mwood@normantranscript.com or 405-416-4420.