No Place To Go

No Place To Go

Camp eviction galvanizes groups


Service providers and volunteers have mustered to help scores of campers on undeveloped land in south Fayetteville get housed in the next few weeks.

On Aug. 13, they and other residents also called on Northwest Arkansas to do more to prevent homelessness by acknowledging the problem and the people experiencing it, then taking tangible steps to help, such as by building more housing and letting the people most in need become tenants.

“It takes a village, so to speak,” said Mac Childs, a Fayetteville landscaper who spoke at a public forum on the issue at Genesis Church on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. He called homelessness a moral crime committed by a society that could also fix it. “We just have to take the resources to do it.”

The Northwest Arkansas Continuum of Care, a coalition of homeless assistance groups, held the forum and also kicked off a weeklong resource fair Aug. 13 at Genesis to give people experiencing homelessness a one-stop shop for social services. The Continuum convened the resource fair after University of Arkansas police gave campers on university land off of 19th Street until Sept. 6 to clear out because of violence and recent deaths around there. Service providers have said around 100 people could be living in the camp, with perhaps several times more than that in the surrounding area.

The deadline is an emergency that has also given a chance to turn the tide against homelessness, said Angela Belford, board chairwoman for the Continuum.

“I’ve been mindboggled and near tears all day,” she said, because of the support and action from Continuum members and other groups after the deadline was announced.

The fair itself is something new, but the response goes beyond that. The Salvation Army in Fayetteville has opened 100 beds in its usual temporary cold-weather shelter area for the next six months and won’t limit clients to a certain number of days there, as has been its practice for its regular overnight shelter. 7 Hills will start allowing half a dozen cars to park in its lot overnight for those who must sleep in their vehicles.

The Health Department is providing free birth certificates after taking up a collection in its Little Rock office to cover the charges, and for those born in the state, it won’t require supporting documents to get the certificates if they can provide enough personal information. Documents can be hard to keep track of in turbulent lives but are often the keys to housing and assistance.

The fair came together with the 19th Street campers in mind, but anyone who walked in was welcome. Larry McCoy said he was sleeping under the Lafayette Street bridge and came to find housing of some kind. Xanadu Huddleston said she needed a birth certificate to get an Arkansas ID and also spoke to the city of Fayetteville booth for information about its pet food pantry.

The Continuum of Care for the past year or two has been compiling a by-name list of people experiencing homelessness throughout Northwest Arkansas that it uses to connect them with the organizations that can help meet their particular needs. Continuum Executive Director Steve Burt on Aug. 13 said the list includes many of the Fayetteville campers, which gave an idea for what services the resource fair should provide.

NWA Democrat-Gazette/DAVID GOTTSCHALK Edith Huddleston (from right) and Matthew Hansen watch Xanadu Huddleston fill out paperwork Monday, August 13, 2018, for Coleen Francis, clerical supervisor for the Northwest Arkansas Region of the Arkansas Department of Health, to obtain her birth certificate during the Housing Resource Fair at Genesis Church in Fayetteville. The weeklong fair is meant to help campers being evicted from a south Fayetteville camp find a place to stay and offer other services.

But getting an apartment, house or other shelter for 100 people would take lots of time and money in the best of circumstances, and the campers’ circumstances can be some of the worst.

Ricky Ford said he’s been in the south Fayetteville camp for almost a year while caring for a 66-year-old father paralyzed from the waist down. Ford, meanwhile, has palsy and has been homeless for more than a decade, saying he has the right to live outdoors and likes it. His father won’t want help, he told Burt, but he needs it.

“I’m just tired of seeing my dad live in filth,” Ford said. “It’s stressing me the hell out.”

Burt immediately went into case-management mode, peppering him with questions, as did 7 Hills case manager Deja Glover. They said getting Ford and his father out of the camp will require a tow truck for their van for starters, and the father likely needs to get to a hospital. The state’s Adult Protective Services could care for the father, but they’d need to be on hand right when the hospital discharges him, Glover said.

Burt, who started his job in June, said he’d been talking with the state services about quickly responding when needed, so he’d check in with them to make sure it could be done in this case. He also pressed Ford to stay with his father even if it meant living in real housing. The Continuum will respect Ford’s wishes, but he’s critically important for his father, Burt said.

Ford said he’d be willing to consider it, and Burt said he’d get in touch with Glover when he knows more.

The back-and-forth gives a snapshot of the collaboration the Continuum is meant to foster. But the true solution to homelessness is more housing, along with more access to housing even for people with no credit history or other troubles, Belford and others have said.

Census estimates show a majority of households making $35,000 or less a year in Northwest Arkansas spend at least a third of that income on housing, a conventional upper limit of affordable housing. Transportation takes another hefty chunk.

This week’s forum in part was meant to find ways to make progress on the housing front.

Belford announced the Continuum received a $10,000 grant from Fayetteville’s First United Presbyterian Church to start a landlord incentive fund, basically insurance for landlords who take on formerly homeless tenants in case of property damage or other issues. Belford said similar funds in other cities took pressure off of leery property owners but wound up barely being needed after that.

She and others said the fund is a good start, but only that. Several people at the forum called for more compassion from the general public for people experiencing homeless, which can strike for countless reasons, and for people who care about homelessness to put their money where their mouths are.

Burt shared some good news as well: The Continuum has housed around 200 people since January from its by-name list.

“How amazing is it when you can actually solve a problem?” he said.


Homelessness resource fair

• When: 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. ending Aug. 17

• Where: Genesis Church, 205 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., Fayetteville

• What’s offered: Help finding temporary or longer-term housing as well as case management, document and legal assistance, health care and other services

• More information: Shuttles between Genesis and the 7 Hills Day Center at 1832 S. School Ave. will run every half hour during the fair.

Source: NWA Continuum of Care

Categories: In The News