Oak City Cares Works to End Homelessness


Local nonprofit sets a new benchmark for unhoused people—and other cities are taking notice.

Oak City Cares has a firm vision that no person should experience homelessness alone. And the organization has gone above and beyond to make that a reality, establishing a one-stop shop for individuals to build trusting relationships and connections to coordinated services necessary to reestablish a home

Yet, while Oak City Cares has garnered attention across the country for this innovative model, the nonprofit hub is so much more than just a service center. For the guests who come through its doors, Oak City Cares is family. 

The local org’s emphasis on collaboration—combined with a heart for what Executive Director Kathy Johnson calls “radical hospitality”—is its secret sauce. Beyond providing meals daily and covering basic needs, Oak City Cares boasts an always-evolving care coordination program incorporating 25+ partner providers in the community. Read: Instead of having to trek all over town, individuals can have all their needs—from primary health care and mental health services to veterans’ services, food stamps, employment training and more—addressed “effectively and efficiently in one location,” she explains.

“Maybe people don’t need all of those things; maybe they just need some,” continues Johnson, “I think what is so subtle—but is the most important thing we do—is connecting [people] to the right service in the right order.” She adds that for a population who can often be given the run-around and easily loses trust, this is “life-changing.” 

Today, as everyone grapples with the ripple effects of inflation, Oak City Cares is experiencing a staggering level of growth due to an increasing demand for its services, and is expected to quadruple its numbers of people served from 1,500 in 2021–22 to 6,000 by the end of 2024. 

Despite the challenges of these rising numbers, Johnson is confident her team, alongside Oak City Cares’ ever-growing list of community partners, can continue to meet the needs of their guests—“an amazing group of people who touch my heart every single day,” she shares. And not only will they meet the needs, but they will meet them in a way “that is still consistent with who we are,” says Johnson. “We will continue to know people by name and know their stories and become even a surrogate family. It will just be a much larger family now.” 

To wit, Oak City Cares is leading the charge nationwide. Already, the org has been contacted by cities across the state—as well as Florida and even Alaska—that were inspired to rethink the way individuals experiencing homelessness are cared for.

“We are eager to figure out how we can collaborate and share funding to do things and do it better. That lends us to be a model for others. Everyone comes together here to serve our neighbors, which is just awesome. … I love that we get to be the convener of that.”

Kathy Johnson

oakcitycares.org





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Angela Brown
Angela Brown is the author of our Business & Economy section.