On Aug. 3rd, Gov. Kevin Stitt announced $15 million in federal coronavirus relief funding would go toward the establishment of 30 HOPE Centers, meant to provide services like meals, mental health care, counseling, internet access and more for kids and families during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Now, the state says they're planning for more.
"It started at 30, but then [Oklahoma Department of Human Services] Secretary [Justin] Brown was like, 'You know what? Maybe 75, maybe we do 100 of these,'" said Brett Hayes, director of behavioral health integration at OKDHS, on a virtual meeting of the state's Trauma-Informed Care Task Force on Tuesday.
Hayes said that there has been enough demand from existing community partners like schools and county health departments, and enough funding, to target additional sites across the state.
"This is $15 million, and, I don't know if you guys know this, but it's hard to spend $15 million in such a short amount of time," Hayes said. "We have to get our $15 million spent by Dec. 31st, so a lot of this is standing these sites up relatively quick, and making sure that children and families are supported."
Hayes said OKDHS has begun looking at the HOPE Centers as being longer-lasting community pillars, not just pandemic stopgaps.
"You're going to start seeing a lot of these pop up, but what we really want to make sure is that as they pop up to fill an immediate need, we are also looking for that long-term plan," Hayes said.
"They can be sort of the front yard, right, that prevent families from getting to the attention of, let's say, the DHS hotline," he said.
The final list of HOPE Center locations has not been announced. The state originally set a goal of having them operating by the end of the calendar year, which is the deadline by which CARES Act funding must be spent.