By Susan Ingram
ADA - Ada Area Community Emergency Services, located at 704 N. Oak, Room 8, is funded by the Ada Regional United Way and has been providing assistance to those who are homeless since 2004.
“We provide services specifically for the homeless. We are not a public distribution of food and clothing. The services we provide are geared for those living on the street. AACES provides emergency lodging by putting people up in a hotel for three days. Since the beginning of 2007, we have helped approximately 371 individuals with emergency lodging, emergency food vouchers and emergency transportation,” said Gayla Callaway, project coordinator for AACES.
AACES also has a prevention program that provides utility, rent and rental deposit assistance. The money for this service comes from a grant from the Oklahoma Department of Commerce. The grant is HUD based.
“With that money we are able to help about 50 people per month. To receive assistance they have to have a cut-off notice, eviction notice or the lease in their hand.
“One thing that Ada is short on is affordable housing. It would be great to have an emergency shelter in town, but it would be even better to be able to transition the homeless into affordable housing. That is really where the problem is because they were either evicted from a home or they are new in town and don’t have any start-up money. Many times people are kicked out of a friend or family member’s house due to not getting along.
“We see all ages. The homeless people who have children are a priority even if we are out of funds. We try to find them shelter. If they are elderly, they get priority. It’s not uncommon for us to have people over 60. If they are a veteran, then we try to get them in touch with the veterans center. We try to get people to wherever they have family. If they are fleeing domestic violence, we work very closely with the Family Crisis Center. We try to not turn people away even if we are out of money. We find them another agency who can help or we get the person to the nearest shelter which is in Shawnee,” Callaway said.
One of the things required by AACES is that each individual work on a plan during the three days at the hotel. They may be asked to show job applications they are filling out or paperwork for the housing authority. AACES refers to 211 to help them find more resources.
“We use 211 every day for referrals. It’s easier to use 211 so people don’t have to go around town knocking door-to-door, using up the last little bit of gas they have. Communication between other organizations and churches is crucial and 211 helps to provide that. United Way allows us to utilize this system,” said Callaway. “There is a focus group that is being formed through United Way. Their purpose is to address the most crucial request coming to the 211 referral system. I believe the top five seem to be utility assistance, housing, health care - mental and physical, food, and employment.”
AACES plans to eventually build a homeless shelter for the Ada area. “We try to save a little each month for the homeless shelter. With United Way funding we can save some and still be able to provide services to those in need. There is no federal funding for building a homeless shelter.”
Not only does the United Way provide funding for the 211 system that is vital to the services AACES provides but also they allow them to help the community’s homeless and provide preventative services for those in danger of becoming homeless.
“I think it is important to realize that we do indeed have homeless people in Ada. Just because you don’t see them on the street doesn’t mean we don’t have them on a daily basis. We are trying everything we know to work toward lodging as many as we can, keeping them safe and off the street. We have a big task ahead of us. The ultimate goal of AACES is to help people become self sufficient - teaching people how to fish instead of just giving them the fish,” Callaway said.