CC in the News

In Oklahoma Schools, Record Numbers of Homeless Children


Nate Robson / Oklahoma Watch
Verna Morales , and her daughter, Aliah, have been homeless since her divorce in 2009. Aliah is a high school sophomore

A resilient economy and low unemployment have done little to stem the tide of students who are finding themselves homeless in Oklahoma.

Despite a five-year oil and gas boom and falling jobless rates, growing numbers of youths are finding themselves without a bedroom to call their own – a trend seen across the nation.

Tonight, thousands of Oklahoma children will fall asleep on the couches or beds of friends or relatives, according to data reported by school districts to the state. Those adults have no legal obligation to care for the child or their family and can kick them out at any time.

Hundreds more will stay in a hotel or motel. Others will sleep in a shelter or on the streets.

The surge in homeless students has raised alarms among school officials, lawmakers and child advocates.

The rising counts spurred a state legislator to author a bill this year that requires the state to gather more precise data on homeless children. The bill, offered by Sen. Kate Floyd, D-Oklahoma City, and signed by the governor in April, will be used to shape future state policies addressing child homelessness.

The increase comes as a surprise to many education officials in light of Oklahoma’s economic growth.

“We’d expect to see this when there’s an economic depression,” said Kathy Brown, a homeless student liaison at Oklahoma City Public Schools. “But this was occurring before our current hit to the oil and gas industries.”

The reasons for the mounting problem are not clear, although experts point to poverty, drug abuse, teen pregnancy and high rates of incarceration and mental illness as possible factors.

The impact on children and families can be traumatic.

Aliah Morales, a sophomore in Tulsa Public Schools, has already spent a fifth of her life homeless.

She’s been in three foster homes, in and out of homeless shelters six times and was in a mental-health facility for treatment of several disorders. She said she bounced through nine schools her freshman year alone.

Morales, 15, is now staying at a Catholic Charities transitional apartment in Tulsa with her mother. She said the instability of homelessness affected her in many ways, including in school.

“When I went to those schools, I do remember that my grades were really low. I was failing all the time,” said Morales. “How do you expect to keep up your grades going to nine schools during your freshman year?”

Who Is Homeless

The word “homeless” evokes a gritty life on the streets, but most students categorized as homeless are not living under bridges.

Even with a place to stay, these students are essentially adrift, school officials say.

Joe Ellis, director of student services at Putnam City Schools, said living in a doubled-up situation may meet a child’s immediate needs, but long-term uncertainty remains

“They’re still homeless because it’s not fixed, it’s not permanent,” Ellis said. “It may be adequate and meet their needs, but if you are living in that situation, you are still homeless.”

Putnam City had 4,042 homeless students in 2013-2014. Of those, 3,841, or 95 percent, were doubled up; 110 were living in a hotel or motel, 68 were in shelters, and 23 were living in a car or outdoors.

Tracking Growth of Homeless Students, by State 

Oklahoma has seen one of the largest increases in homeless students in the nation.

Oklahoma City Public Schools has counted 3,200 homeless students so far this year, setting a new record for the district.

Brown said district numbers reported to the state underrepresent the problem in Oklahoma because they don’t include children too young to attend school or students who drop out to find a job to support themselves

Also, the numbers are based on data self-reported by parents when they enroll their child. Some may conceal their situation because they’re ashamed or are afraid that they will lose custody of their children.

Fragile economic circumstances at home also can mean a family will start the school year with a home, but end up on the street months after classes start. That means teachers or school officials must continue looking for signs that a child is homeless, such as wearing the same clothes every day.

Brown said the effects of poverty and homelessness can follow a child into adulthood.

“There is a cycle we are trying to break,” she said.

Being homeless places students at risk of physical and mental health problems, exploitation and abuse, poor nutrition or hunger, and criminal influences. Homelessness also can impede learning. A child may be more worried about finding the next meal than studying for the next test.

About 49 percent of the state’s homeless third graders in Oklahoma passed their reading exams in 2013-2014, compared to 66 percent of all third graders, according to state data.

Josh, a 15-year-old home-schooled freshman living near Tulsa, said his math grades spiraled down as a homeless student. He is working with a math tutor and plans to attend public school next year. He is trying to avoid having to take remedial classes.

(Oklahoma Watch is referring to Josh and his family by first name because they fled an abusive situation in Texas last summer.)

The family has been homeless several times in the past few years after losing their house in the recession. They have stayed in extended-stay hotels, lived out of a van and moved into a home with another family before ending up in Oklahoma.

Despite the turmoil, Josh said he remains focused on two goals.

“I plan to be in a stable place for at least a year. That would be nice,” he said. “As for long term, this isn’t a plan — I will do it. I will finish my education. Immediately after high school, I will go to college.

Behind the Increase

Part of the reason the counts of homeless students are rising is that schools are doing a better job of identifying those students, education officials said. But the population also is actually growing, they said.

Carly Putnam, an analyst at the Oklahoma Policy Institute, a research and advocacy group, said an increase in homeless students and families indicates Oklahoma did not weather the recession as well as people believe.

Oklahoma’s low unemployment rates can be deceiving because many residents work low-paying or part-time jobs, Putnam said. That makes it difficult to keep a family housed and fed. Rents also have climbed in recent years, she said.

“Clearly, when people don’t have money to stay in their homes, the cost of living may not be as low as we think,” she said.

Aliah Morales’ mother, Verna, now works at McDonald’s. She hopes to find a better job at a call center after she gets off probation later this year on a charge of failing to provide for a child. That could allow her and her daughter to move out of the shelter and into their own Habitat for Humanity home.

Verna Morales has been homeless since getting divorced in 2009. She had moved to Texas but returned in 2012. In the meantime, her daughter and ex-husband had parted and the daughter was living with a sister.

When Verna Morales was on her own, being homeless was less of a concern.

“I got bigger and better plans for the future now,” Morales said. “I try to think about making it somewhere, getting a better job, stuff like that, so I can support her.

Josh’s mother, Liz, is also struggling to find work, after being laid off. She said the pay for most jobs she finds is near minimum wage.

“The highest I found was $10 an hour,” Liz said. “Got two boys, trying to keep an apartment and fuel, and all of that, on one income – it’s not enough. It’s just enough for all the state assistance to stop.”

Sources of Help

Federal law requires districts to identify homeless students and provide them services. An example is transportation, which enables students to stay in the same school all year even if they move.

Many counties and nonprofits also offer programs to help homeless youth remain in school or prepare for the workforce.

Districts have to enroll a homeless student even if he or she is missing paperwork, whether proof of address, birth certificate or immunization records.

This school year, Oklahoma received about $687,000 in federal funding for homeless student programs, down from about $733,000 in 2011.

Ellis, of Putnam City Schools, said his district provides referral services to homeless students to connect them with organizations and resources that can assist.

Aliah Morales is receiving help from Catholic Charities and another organization, but the long period of homelessness has taken a toll on her.

Aliah and her mother said Aliah suffers from anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, separation disorder and bipolar disorder. She also has trouble sleeping.

The Tulsa teenager laughed dryly when asked if there’s a connection between her mental health issues and being homeless. She said she also felt stigmatized and isolated at school.

“No one really talked to me, and I felt like all I had was my mama to talk to, which was embarrassing,” said Aliah Morales. “I would text my mama nonstop, which is even more embarrassing when someone asks, ‘Who are you texting?’”

Original article: 

Please vote for Mary and Andy!

Andy and Mary Bidasio have been nominated for Catholic Extension’s 2015 Lumen Christi Award!

Bidasios-LumenChristiMarried for 72 years, Andy and Mary Bidasio, both in their 90s, have spent most of their lives volunteering in the Diocese of Tulsa, Okla. In 1983, through Catholic Charities, they helped convert two dilapidated buildings into St. Elizabeth Lodge and the Madonna House, respectively serving families in transition and women in crisis pregnancies. Then the couple was instrumental in the creation of Holy Child Assistance Shop, where donated mother and baby items are available to those in need. Though they both have encountered health challenges, Andy and Mary have each logged more than 8,000 volunteer hours with Catholic Charities. They are thankful for the opportunity to continue volunteering and feel that the Lord still has plenty of work for them to do.”

Now in its 38th year, the Lumen Christi award is presented to a woman religious, priest, lay person or group whose service spreads the light of Christ and transforms lives in their community and beyond. Both the nominating diocese AND recipient of the Lumen Christi Award will receive a $25,000 grant, for a total of $50,000 to fund their ministries.

Please vote and share with your friends.

*Voting is not the only method of becoming a finalist, but it does help.*

Click here to vote now!

After the voting is over, finalists will be announced in the first week in May, and the overall Lumen Christi honoree will be announced in the beginning of August after extensive rounds of interviews.

CC Poteau to Participate in June 10th Event

Be the End-Poteau Communities of Care art

Free “Be The End” Community Event Creates System of Care for Local Families

Laflore, Latimer, Haskell Counties host family forum to promote joining together to create “Communities of Care” that support all children and families.

Poteau, OK (June 2, 2014) – More than 25 local community service agencies have joined together to host the Communities of Care “Be The End” forum on Tuesday, June 10 from 5 to 7 p.m. at the Reynolds Community Center, 105 Reynolds Ave., Poteau. The free forum is being offered to the community as part of the statewide Communities of Care initiative and is hosted by Communities of Care, Leflore County Child Advocacy Center, Southern Star and the Choctaw Nation.

Communities of Care representative Deanna Chancellor, Executive Director of Leflore County Child Advocacy Center and Women’s Crisis Services of Leflore County explains the purpose of “Be the End” is to raise awareness of the number of community families struggling through traumatic events. These events often weaken the family structure and end with children being taken into the foster care system. Helping these families on the front end is an investment that results in stronger communities.

CommunitiesofCareWorking together, we can build stronger, healthier communities. We want our friends and neighbors to join us Tuesday and gain a better understanding of what community services are available and how even the smallest commitment of time and resources can help strengthen our community,” says Chancellor.

The free event will include free hamburgers and hot dogs, prize drawings for an iPad mini, Kindles, bicycles skateboards, Wal-Mart gift cards and more. There also will be local entertainment, guest speakers and information about local community service agencies that have opportunities where community members can volunteer and make a difference in the life of a child or fragile family.

Community leader District Attorney Jeff Smith has taken an active role in the event because the leaders of Leflore County believe the entire community plays a role in the overall health, safety and wellbeing of all local children and families. Smith says, “I am part of this effort by the Communities of Care initiative because I care about the future of our children, the future of our community. I am encouraging everyone to step up and commit to adding value to the quality of life for all of us.”

Smith invites everyone to attend the forum and gain a better understanding of how even just five minutes of a person’s time can help build a stronger community. “One hour, one month or one year and endless opportunities to contribute make it possible for everyone to find a way to help our friends and neighbors and to build a stronger community,” he says.

Families are the most basic building block of any community and the statistics in eastern Oklahoma indicate there are high numbers of children and families at risk for experiencing some type of stress that often leads to undesirable outcomes such as divorce, incarceration or children entering state custody. These situations add stress to the entire community and are concerning to local businesses, faith-based organizations, tribes and community partners.

Families can become fragile for many reasons. Most often these reasons include divorce, unemployment, school dropout, unintended pregnancies, homelessness, crime, incarceration, injuries and loss of life. When families are impacted, the entire community is impacted. “Communities are one living organism just like our bodies,” explains Lynn Smith, MPH, CHES, Communications and Event Specialist at Oklahoma Systems of Care. “If a child suffers from a broken arm, the whole body and soul is affected. When communities suffer from broken family units, we all are impacted. From a less productive workforce to increased crime and children entering the system, our communities suffer. We all need to work together to invest in our future on the front end. The time is NOW. Together we can create a stronger, healthier future.”

In eastern Oklahoma alone, in 2013, there were 1,498 confirmed reports of child abuse and neglect representing 2,781 children. An overwhelming 60 percent of those children were age 0 to 6. This is an increase of nearly 20 percent over 2012. These traumatic experiences for children are often caused by adults with untreated mental illness or substance abuse habits and lead to children and youth being placed into state custody.

With approximately 70 percent of adults and 40 percent of youth left untreated for mental health issues and 77 percent of adults and 80 percent of youth needing help for substance abuse problems, Oklahoma communities must work together for the sake of the children and the future.

Further statistics show that for eastern Oklahoma, in 2013, more children entered foster care than there were approved beds. With only 1,761 approved beds, 2,217 children were removed from their homes and placed into the system. This startling statistic represents 21 percent of the total number of children in Oklahoma removed from their family and is a 23 percent increase over 2012.

Because children entering state custody, untreated mental illness and substance abuse and other traumatic events affect the entire community, many local resource agencies and businesses have joined together to sponsor the event. The partners represent all sectors of the community and include businesses, faith-based organizations, tribes, community partners and families. Organizations hosting the event include Southern Star, Choctaw Nation Family Services, Choctaw Nation Voices of Survivors,

Choctaw Nation Project Safe, Central National Bank, Leflore County Child Advocacy Network, Women’s Crisis Services of Leflore County, Grace Cottage, D & D Counseling, Sequel Care, Leflore County Systems of Care, Leflore County Department of Human Services Child Welfare and Family Services, Pervasive Parenting Center, Catholic Charities,  Leflore County District Attorney’s Office, KI BOIS, Smart Start Oklahoma, Health Authority, Boys and Girls Club of Leflore County, Choice Pregnancy Center, Leflore County Youth Services, Leflore County Medical Reserve Corps, Health Department-Child First, OSU Extension , Eastern Oklahoma Medical Center, Poteau Police Department and Patrick Lynch Public Library Friends Inc.

Information about the event and the Communities of Care initiative can be found on Facebook at or by calling Deanna Chancellor at (918) 647-3814. Additional information about resources for families and how everyone can help will be available at the event.

For information about Catholic Charities’ Immaculate Conception Helping Center in Poteau, contact Mary Saucier, Coordinator, at 918.647.2220 or The address of the helping center is 410 N. Bagwell, Poteau, OK 74953.

Oklahoma Catholics Speak Up for the Most Vulnerable

Catholic Advocacy Day allowed more than 60 laity, legislators, clergy and religious to meet with their legislators.


OKLAHOMA CITY — A recent “Catholic Advocacy Day” gave laity in Oklahoma the opportunity to participate in the legislative process and to be “a voice for the voiceless,” a spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City says.

“The Gospel … does have implications for the here and now and we are called to live out our faith by advocating for the least of these, advocating for the most vulnerable,” said Tina Dzurisin, communications director for the archdiocese, in an April 1 interview.

With Tulsa Bishop Edward Slattery looking on, Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City speaks at the state's Catholic Advocacy Day, March 25. – CNA/Archdiocese of Oklahoma City

With Tulsa Bishop Edward Slattery looking on, Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City speaks at the state’s Catholic Advocacy Day, March 25.
– CNA/Archdiocese of Oklahoma City

Each year, Catholic Charities of Oklahoma City gives voters across the state get the chance to meet with lawmakers and to discuss proposed legislation dealing with the poor and vulnerable.

More than 60 laity, legislators, clergy and religious took part in the Catholic Advocacy Day which was held March 25.

Dzurisin said this year was especially inspiring to participants because both of Oklahoma’s bishops spoke at the event.

“Both Christian preaching and the Christian life are meant to have an impact on our society, to help us prepare here on earth for the coming of the reign of God by a more just ordering of society where charity may reign,” Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City said March 25.

He explained that as Christians, our good works are “not a peripheral to the faith.”

“It flows from the very heart of our faith, our encounter with the person of Jesus Christ who reveals the Father’s love to us, who reveals our own dignity to us and who opens up for us a new horizon — a transcendental horizon — of hope.”

Catholic Charities of Tulsa also lent support to the event, and Bishop Edward Slattery gave a presentation.

In his talk, Bishop Slattery explained that the Church is not “putting restrictions on our fellow human beings” when preaching against abortion, the death penalty, disregard for the poor, or euthanasia.

Rather, he said, the Church is seeking to promote the freedom and dignity of all persons, explaining that “the social teaching of the Church promotes human dignity, and freedom of the individual and of human societies.”

The director of advocacy for Catholic Charities in Oklahoma City, Dick Klinge, drew attention to several bills that would have an impact on the needy and vulnerable.

He encouraged Catholics to support proposed legislation such as House Bill 2685, which would require doctors to inform mothers about public and private agencies that offer perinatal and palliative care when their child has been diagnosed with a fetal anomaly that would not be compatible with life. Under this bill, abortion would be prohibited without the voluntary and informed consent of the mother.

Another bill, which Klinge encouraged Catholics to support, is House Bill 2338, which would give limited immunity from civil liability for any churches and schools that open their facilities to victims of natural disasters.



Cooking Up Compassion 2014 – KTUL Channel 8 Interview with David Perkins

Coats for Kids featured on the NewsOn6

Brrrrr! Now is the perfect time to take those unused coats out of the closet and donate them to Coats for Kids. Coats can be dropped off at any Yale Cleaners or at Catholic Charities. Heavy coats for kids and plus-size adults are in high demand. We appreciate your generosity!

Click here to see the NewsOn6 story about Coats for Kids.

For more information on Coats for Kids, click here.

Catholic Charities featured in Nov. EOC

Read the Eastern Oklahoma Catholic article about Catholic Charities in the November 2013 issue.