After the closure of one emergency shelter for men in October, homelessness service providers are seeing more people living on the streets now that colder weather is here.
At the Compassion Center in Little Rock, the number of people staying in the emergency shelter has risen to 200 this month, up from the usual 140. With the increase in residents, costs have more than doubled, said pastor William Holloway, the shelter's founder and director.
"It may stay that way the rest of the winter is what I'm scared of," Holloway said Friday.
Aaron Reddin, the founder of The Van, said he's also seeing more single people on the streets. That happens often when it gets colder because people from smaller towns with fewer services go to Little Rock hoping to find a way to get an indoor spot, he said. The Van provides food, clothing and hygiene products for people living on the streets.
The Compassion Center provides drug and alcohol rehabilitation, job counseling, food and other services for homeless people. It's at 3618 W. Roosevelt Road.
Sandra Wilson, president of the Arkansas Homeless Coalition, said that this year is different from most. She's been fielding calls from outreach workers almost daily asking if she knows of a place with an empty bed or a place for families with small children.
"This one stands out," Wilson said of this winter. "They're going to do the point-in-time count in late January, and if that doesn't just show a real huge increase in homelessness," she said, "then we've missed counting a huge population."
The coalition is a group of service providers, volunteers and other community members that advocates for the homeless population.
Wilson said members of the coalition are exploring the idea of establishing an overflow shelter with few restrictions on who can stay there, but the work is still preliminary. The overflow shelter, called "low barrier" would allow people to get in off the streets late at night and might let them have their pets with them.
The coalition also will push in 2019 for the creation of legal campgrounds where the homeless will not be forced out by the city.
"We've got to do something, and it's not enough to just sit and talk about it," Wilson said. "We've actually got to take action and get something in place now."
The point-in-time count is a census of the homeless population that's conducted every other January by the Central Arkansas Team Care for the Homeless. The 2017 census showed that there were 990 homeless people in the Little Rock metropolitan area. About 55 percent of those had no shelter.
A count of the in-shelter population in places such as transitional housing or emergency shelters is conducted in the years between the full censuses.
The Compassion Center has room for 300 people and has gotten close to that capacity only once, a couple of years ago during an ice storm, Holloway said. However, the group needs donations of turkeys, canned vegetables, toiletries, twin-size bedsheets or money to pay the center's increasing gas and water bills, he said.
In the past month, the monthly water bill increased from about $1,700 to more than $4,000, Holloway said. The Compassion Center is funded entirely by donations.
Holloway thinks the increase in homelessness is because it's tough to make enough money to support a family in today's economy. But the uptick also came soon after the closure of the men's emergency shelter at Nehemiah House in October, which left the Compassion Center as the only emergency shelter for men in Little Rock, he said.
"It's more work, it's more hours on the streets, it's more supplies," The Van's Reddin said. "You're seeing people at the time when they are the most vulnerable."
He added that during the colder months, it's hard for The Van to keep men's shoes and boots in stock.
The group operates under the nonprofit The One Inc. and serves unsheltered homeless people in Little Rock and North Little Rock.
The Van also operates two cold-weather shelters -- at Second Baptist Church in downtown Little Rock and at Levy Church of Christ in North Little Rock. Both are open if it's 25 degrees or colder and dry weather, or 32 degrees or colder when the weather is wet.
Reddin is working to get a new location for The Van's operations base, which is now at a rental warehouse in North Little Rock. The facility doesn't have a working shower or toilets. It's also cold, which makes loading the van tough on volunteers, Reddin said.
Last week, a plan to buy a new space in southwest Little Rock fell through. The Van had raised nearly $29,000 of its $35,000 goal when Reddin discovered that the property was zoned residential rather than commercial. The seller then terminated the contract, which was set to be finalized on Thursday.
Reddin is now looking at building a space close to the North Little Rock location where the neighbors are already familiar with The Van's work. He's found a piece of land and needs to evaluate the cost of utilities at a new location before he moves forward, but he plans to keep the donation webpage for a new spot open.
A new space would let the organization increase the laundry and shower services, using the money the group saves on rent.
"People always come through," he said. "It really makes you believe in something good."
SundayMonday on 12/16/2018
Print Headline: Shelters in central Arkansas see rise in need for help