FAYETTEVILLE -- Plans to clear brush on undeveloped University of Arkansas, Fayetteville-owned land mean dozens of people living there must leave by Sept. 6, campers were told at a meeting Thursday.
The thicketed area housing various homeless encampments has also been the site of increased crime in recent months, police have said, including the beating death of a man found on UA property in May.
In a phone interview, Capt. Gary Crain with university police said more patrols and enforcement have led to arrests. A sweep done this week resulted in seven people ordered to leave the site because they were causing problems, he said. But efforts requiring a half-dozen officers or more cannot be sustained, he added.
"We spoke about that, and the safety [at the Thursday meeting]," Crain said. "The people that are living out there and trying to do the right thing, we cannot assure their safety." Crain said that when work starts, if people are there, they will be removed by police.
Leaders from community organizations and UA officials broke the news with about 70 people from the homeless community in attendance for a roughly 75-minute meeting at 7 Hills Day Center, said Angela Belford, board chairman for Northwest Arkansas Continuum of Care. The day center is near the site.
Service providers shared information about ways to get help, including an expansion in shelter space being offered by the Salvation Army, Belford said.
She said UA told service organizations in June of the decision to clear the site, and service groups planned Thursday's meeting to walk through steps for getting various types of help in addition to having UA leaders share the news.
A meeting for the general public scheduled for 6 p.m. Monday in Fayetteville aims to focus community support for the homeless, with service providers at Genesis Church speaking about "ways the community can get involved," according to an announcement.
In May, 7 Hills Homeless Center chief executive officer Jessica Andrews estimated that 80 to 100 people live on the UA-owned land, located more than a mile from the main UA campus.
Amy Schlesing, UA's executive director of strategic communications, in an email said the plan to clear the site was decided by "university leadership after consulting with UAPD and Facilities Management about the property."
The south Fayetteville area includes a 31-acre lot purchased by UA in 2003 for $370,000 and a 25-acre lot purchased for $250,000 in 2012, a UA spokesman has said, with the plan at one time to possibly add to a nearby research and technology park. UA has been trying to sell the land.
"Ensuring that the people affected have safe alternatives and resources is an important part of this process," Schlesing said. "That is why we reached out to a group of community partners to help find solutions and support."
Josh Robinett, Northwest Arkansas commander for the Salvation Army, said Thursday evening that “we’re looking at possibly taking on an additional 100 people” on top of the group’s typical 46-person capacity in Fayetteville.
The plan makes use of a temporary cold-weather shelter area, with those in the shelter able to stay for six months continuously, Robinett said.
The move comes “with the hope that people from this community and other organizations and landlords — people who are passionate about people — will come alongside and help us to get these people housed.”
He said blankets and bedding, as well as storage lockers so campers can keep their belongings, are needed.
Ramona Lawrence, 55, said she’s been homeless off-andon for more than two decades and camped in the area being cleared Tuesday night.
“It’s not right,” Lawrence said, adding that a friend has been camping there for two years and others have stayed longer. “They shouldn’t make the ones like that leave. They should at least let them take control of that place and clean it up and put them in charge of it.”
Metro on 08/10/2018
Print Headline: Deadline is set for homeless to exit from camps at UA site