In 2021, with support from the REALTOR® Party’s Issues Polling program, the Oklahoma City Metropolitan Association of REALTORS® conducted a membership survey about issues affecting local REALTORS® – and were surprised by the answer: a whopping 61% of respondents reported that their top concern was homelessness in the region. Not only that – they also urged their association to do something about it. Tapping into the REALTOR® Party’s Housing Opportunity Grant Program, OKCMAR launched ‘The Way Home’: a major initiative establishing the REALTORS® as leaders in the fight to end homelessness in Oklahoma City.
Gary Jones, OKCMAR’s Government Affairs Director, explains that although Oklahoma City’s surge in homelessness had been becoming a more prominent issue in the media and for the City Council, it hadn’t been on OKCMAR’s radar as a policy issue until the members’ priorities were revealed. The Government Affairs Committee responded by creating an interim task force to study the issue, engage with other organizations concerned with homelessness, and identify next steps. “We learned that we never even see roughly 80% of our city’s unhoused population,” says Jones; “The fact that there are great numbers of people who are couch-surfing, or getting by in other ways that make them invisible to the public, feeds the false narrative about who and why a person is homeless. We’ve learned that it can happen to anybody: in fact, one of the most compelling examples we’ve been able to share is that of one of our own members, who was a homeless teenager. We realized that educating all our members, and the public, about this would have to be our first step toward engaging them in solving the problem.”
As it developed The Way Home campaign, OKCMAR joined forces with the City of Oklahoma City and the OKC Homeless Alliance to support policy initiatives to alleviate homelessness. Two Housing Opportunity Grants from the REALTOR® Party supported the creation of its fully branded educational campaign featuring a website that serves as a donation portal for The Way Home Fund, established with donations of $10K from both OKCMAR and MLSOK, and which raised over $15K with its initial fundraiser; and The Welcome Home Drive, an initiative that provides essential household items to households transitioning out of homelessness. The site also offers a variety of social media ‘shareables’ and is home to five poignant videos, including one in which LaNell Long, OKCMAR’s 2023 RPAC Chair, shares her personal experience with homelessness.
In September, OKCMAR will launch The Way Home volunteer program, also run through the website, to organize members’ goodwill and elbow grease. “We’re very excited about this, and our recent REALTOR® Neighborhood Volunteer Week is an encouraging precedent of what our members can accomplish,” says Jones. On a single day, approximately 35 volunteers showed their REALTOR® pride, working to paint the interior of several spaces within the Oklahoma City Homeless Alliance Center in uplifting colors chosen by a member who is an interior designer. “It was another great way to show our commitment,” notes Jones. He adds that member engagement is so strong that 43 members have joined OKCMAR’s Homelessness Initiative Subcommittee, which evolved from the initial task force.
The Way Home campaign has so impressed the City of Oklahoma City, that it asked the REALTORS® to be involved in its own campaign, Key to Home. And in a case of imitation being the sincerest form of flattery, the City also sought the services of OKCMAR’s PR firm to take charge of it. OKCMAR’s board graciously voted to pay for this – a win-win for the shared cause.
To learn more about how the Oklahoma City Metropolitan Association of REALTORS® is educating the public about housing needs in the community, visit https://okcmar.org/thewayhome/ or contact Government Affairs Director Gary Jones at email@example.com or 405.641.1921.