The Arkansas Homeless Coalition decided Wednesday to join a group of service providers who meet with Little Rock officials and try to intervene when the homeless are evicted from makeshift camps.
At the meetings, which take place every couple of weeks, Assistant City Manager James Jones and Vice Mayor Kathy Webb let providers know when and where the city plans to post signs that give people living in illegal camps one week to move out.
"When someone has to leave someone's property and just moves to another illegal spot, we started talking about how do we break that cycle," said Sandra Wilson, the coalition president. The coalition is a group of homeless-service providers and advocates who meet monthly.
The 2017 homeless census in central Arkansas showed there were 990 people experiencing homelessness in Lonoke, Prairie, Pulaski and Saline counties. Just more than half of them were living outside.
Aaron Reddin, founder of a Little Rock nonprofit that provides food, clothes and other goods to people living outside, organized a protest at Little Rock's City Hall in early 2017 when eviction notices were placed at several camps after complaints from residents.
"It's been a long line of miscommunication and mistrust," said Mandy Davis, director of the Jericho Way Homeless Day Resource Center.
Webb said building trust between the city and advocates is the first step toward making "meaningful progress." The intervention group worked together earlier this month to conduct a survey of the city's homeless to identify gaps in services.
"Nobody is perfect with their communication, but I think if we can develop levels of trust with each other, that goes a long way," she said.
Interventions when the homeless are forced to move from the camps can mean anything from paying for them to stay in shelters to getting them motel rooms. The coalition also is discussing the creation of legal campgrounds, Wilson said.
Webb said she wants to analyze information from the survey before the city explores the idea of creating legal campgrounds.
Legal campgrounds are city-sanctioned spots where the homeless can camp overnight. Such sites often allow couples to stay together, whereas shelters are generally divided by sex. Some campgrounds also allow pets.
Versions of the campgrounds have popped up across the United States in recent years, including Right 2 Dream Too in Portland, Ore., seven tiny villages in Seattle and Camp Hope in Las Cruces, N.M. Tiny villages are small houses built for the homeless, while Right 2 Dream Too is a collection of tarps and tents in Portland. Camp Hope has raised platforms where people can put tents, according to its website.
Joining the intervention team is one of several efforts the Arkansas coalition has made over the past six months to get government officials involved with homelessness issues.
The group set four goals at the beginning of 2018: to build a legislative voice, provide opportunities for engagement on issues that affect homeless people, develop a formal network of service providers and build relationships with local, state and federal officials.
In March, about two months before the state's primary elections, the coalition organized a forum of state and local candidates to discuss issues such as how to address the root causes of homelessness, legal campgrounds and ways to get money into the state's Housing Trust Fund, which was legislatively established and is unfunded.
The coalition also registered about 400 homeless people to vote and plans to drive them to voting centers in November, Wilson said.
The group also is working on a homeless bill of rights and trying to find a sponsor in the state Legislature for the 2019 session. The bill would explicitly outline rights for the homeless and prohibit discrimination, Wilson said in an earlier interview.
Rhode Island was the first state to pass a homeless bill of rights in 2012, and Connecticut and Illinois followed soon after. Baltimore, Traverse City, Mich., and Madison, Wis., passed city bills, according to the National Coalition for the Homeless.
"We wanted to go back to the simple truth that a homeless individual is a human being," said Sybil Ward, a co-chairman for the coalition.
Metro on 06/14/2018