A home by any other name

By Jeanni Brosius Published April 8, 2012 at 2:45 a.m.
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— Are there people living under bridges in Batesville? That is a question that may be debated; however, no one seems to dispute that it is a good idea to help those who have no place to call home. The debate is about the location of a homeless shelter and if it is truly needed.

Independence County Sheriff Steve Jeffery said calls about problems with homeless people don’t seem to come into the sheriff’s department very often.

“As far as we are concerned, we don’t have a homeless problem,” he said based only on the lack of calls that come in. “We’ve got a couple of locals we see walking down the street.”

Not everyone sees homelessness as a problem in Batesville, but others, like Jerry Smart, have said it is a big problem. Smart knows, because not too long ago, he was one of those homeless people.

He said that after working as warehouse manager at Batesville Cold for seven years, he found himself in a situation that resulted in him becoming homeless.

“My marriage got bad, and I started drinking and got into drugs,” Smart said. “I got laid off, got divorced, and unemployment ran out. Didn’t have any place to go.”

He said he slept in abandoned cars and buildings, and for a while, he stayed unnoticed in a mobile home park. Not having a permanent home wasn’t something with which Smart was unfamiliar.

“I was molested as a child, and my dad was an abusive drunk,” Smart said. “I’ve been on my own since I was 12.”

After he split up from his wife, he spent some time in Memphis, and he said he realized that he hadn’t seen his children in six months.

That was when he found Celebrate Recovery — a Christ-centered drug-abuse and alcoholism program — at Believers’ Community Church in Batesville. From there, he went to John 3:16, a residential recovery program in Charlotte.

“They took me in and loved me. ... I never had a relationship with God, but I knew he was there,” Smart said about the treatment programs.

While Smart was at John 3:16, he said his former wife came to visit him. When he graduated from the program, she picked him up.

“We renewed our vows at Believers’,” he said.

For more than a year, Smart has been operating his business, Inspired by Prayer Landscaping and Remodel.

Because of his experiences and knowing that he has overcome some tough situations, Smart said he wants to help others who are in need, so he’s teamed up with Hellfighters Christian Ministries to open a homeless shelter.

Diane White, owner of Elizabeth’s Restaurant and Catering in downtown Batesville, said she often feeds people and gives some of them odd jobs.

“If somebody comes in and says they’re hungry, I’ll feed them,” White said.

“Sometimes I’ll ask them to wash dishes to determine if they’re looking for a handout or if they’re really hungry. Some of them are looking for something temporary to do to get the ready cash for food.”

She said many of the people who come in looking for work or food don’t have jobs. She said she feeds about three people each month, but people ask her for money every day.

“To know they are homeless, I can’t say, but I know of at least one that comes by who is living in a boarding home, and he has to eat everything out,” she said.

The problem doesn’t stop with just adults. Many children are living with uncertainty, too.

Ronnie Coots, director of information and business for the Batesville School District, said 124 children in his schools are classified as homeless.

“The definition of homeless is very broad,” Coots said.

“It could mean that the family’s house burned, and they’re doubled up with a relative.”

He said the classifications of homeless include living with someone other than immediate family, living in a hotel or motel, living in a shelter or transitional housing, or an unaccompanied youth.

“The majority are doubled up,” Coots said.

“There are five living in a hotel or motel and one in a shelter.”

But he said there are no students living unsheltered or unaccompanied this school year; however, in past years, there have been.

Most of those who are classified as homeless may not be living under a bridge; they may be sleeping in a car or on a neighbor’s couch.

That’s where Hellfighters Christian Ministries comes in. The Batesville chapter of the nonprofit Christian-based motorcycle club is led by Steve and Jamie Blakely.

The Hellfighters plan to open a homeless shelter called Mission at the Cross in the old Brunner Printing Co. building at 125 W. Pine St.

The Batesville Planning Commission voted that the building is zoned as commercial property, but some residents of the community challenged that decision and appealed the issue to the Batesville City Council.

At its regular board meeting Tuesday night, the council voted 6-1 in favor of upholding the Planning Commission’s decision.

Staff writer Jeanni Brosius can be reached at (501) 244-4307 or jbrosius@arkansasonline.com.

Three Rivers Edition Writer Jeanni Brosius can be reached at 501-244-4307 or jbrosius@arkansasonline.com.

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