OKMULGEE, Oklahoma – Over a dozen Muscogee (Creek) Citizens participating in the Temporary Occupancy Program had to find new lodging accommodations after federal funding for the program ran out. The program was funded by the Indian Community Development Block Grant under the American Rescue Plan Act.
Two MCN Citizens utilizing the program, Heaven Bonitz and Terri Baldridge said they were not prepared for funding to run out. Both had been staying at the Days Inn by Wyndham Hotel in Okmulgee since late October or early November. According to Baldridge, she found out over breakfast that she had to check out of the hotel the same day.
“Communication is a big deal and everyone stresses out,” Baldridge said. “If someone had picked up the phone and let us know last week ‘hey we’re out of funding, y’all get ready’ but here now everyone is sitting here twiddling their thumbs.”
An official with the Days Inn by Wyndham said he was informed at the last minute that the citizens under the temporary occupancy program would have to check out the morning of Jan. 6.
Baldridge utilized the temporary occupancy program because her house had broken windows and had no running utilities. She said it was her understanding that she would be able to stay in the hotel for a full 90 days.
“There was no communication,” Baldridge said. “We were told three months to be able to get started again.”
Bonitz said she reached out to the housing department, Chief’s office and members of the National Council to see if the program would be extended but was unsuccessful in making contact.
MCN Department of Housing Admissions Manager Jamie Moore provided the following statement regarding the issue:
“The Department of Housing offered the Temporary Occupancy Program for a short period to provide temporary and transitional shelter to those Citizens and their families that are currently experiencing homelessness to protect themselves from the infection of COVID-19. The homeless population faces great difficulties, which creates obstacles in preventing the spread of COVID-19.
The Admissions Department interviewed every Citizen that came to the office to fill out an application and offered resources to help them in their journey. Applicants were informed of the available Housing Programs and eligibility requirements to assist them in finding permanent housing according to Moore.
Each Citizen signed an agreement acknowledging they understood the terms and were informed it was temporary and encouraged them to be actively seeking options of finding permanent housing according to Moore. The Admissions Department made referrals to many of the Nation’s resources such as; Behavioral Health, Social Services, Citizenship, Food Distribution and Transit.”
The response went on to state that the admissions department received 82 applications, 62 received assistance for a motel, with 25 on a waitlist in the event that more funding becomes available for the temporary occupancy program. It also stated that the citizens utilizing the program were given advanced notice of their checkout date and that the program would be ending.
The Okmulgee County Homeless Shelter is an available resource for those facing immediate housing insecurities in the Okmulgee area. The shelter is located at 214 N. Morton Ave. and can be reached at (918) 756-9098. The shelter is open to citizens of all ages, and also provides services that help break the cycle of housing insecurity.