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FAYETTEVILLE -- Fewer people now live in homeless encampments on University of Arkansas, Fayetteville-owned land as a Thursday deadline looms for them to leave the property.

Among those remaining as of Tuesday was Victor Neblett, 52, who said he's been staying in "one of the clean camps" for about a year.

The deadline "means stress, panic," said Neblett. And sadness, he said.

"A lot of good people was here," he added.

Perhaps 20 to 25 people remained as of Tuesday, said Solomon Burchfield, director of operations at 7 Hills Homeless Center. In May, the nonprofit's chief executive officer, Jessica Andrews, estimated that 80 to 100 people lived in camps on the south Fayetteville property, owned by UA but more than a mile from the main university campus.

"I know quite a few people moved out over the weekend," Burchfield said.

Capt. Gary Crain of the UA Police Department said officers were issuing warnings Tuesday to people still on the land.

"This is their warning, that they have time now to make other arrangements and leave," Crain said.

University police have cited rising crime, including the beating death of a man found on the property, and a lack of resources as reasons to break up the homeless encampments. Police and service-agency representatives at an Aug. 9 meeting at 7 Hills told attendees about the deadline to leave the property.

Those warned to leave will be arrested Thursday if they are still at the site, Crain said.

The university plans to post "No Trespassing" signs Thursday, with work to clear out brush set to begin on Friday as scheduled, said Amy Schlesing, UA's executive director of strategic communications.

She has said previously that the decision to clear the site was made by "university leadership after consulting with UAPD and Facilities Management about the property."

"UAPD has continued its regular patrol of the area and the coalition of community organizations continues to work with campers to find safe housing options," Schlesing said in an email.

UA spokesman Steve Voorhies said last month that efforts were ongoing to sell the land, which includes a 31-acre lot purchased by UA in 2003 for $370,000 and a 25-acre lot purchased for $250,000 in 2012.

Service providers including 7 Hills, the Salvation Army and Genesis Church have stepped up their efforts in recent weeks to help those who are homeless, said Angela Belford, board chairman for the Northwest Arkansas Continuum of Care.

The Salvation Army expanded its shelter operations to house more people. On Tuesday night, 7 Hills was set to begin allowing overnight parking on its property, Burchfield said, with two portable toilets now in place. Genesis Church hosted a community meeting and hosted a walk-in event for the homeless to receive information on health and other services.

Without help from these organizations, "I think that our community would have been experiencing much more dire and unpleasant consequences," Belford said.

The measures, such as the expanded shelter provided by the Salvation Army with relaxed check-in rules, are not meant to be permanent, Burchfield and Belford said.

"We know that this is a pivotal point," Belford said, with the short-term help going along with stepped-up efforts aimed at getting more people into housing in the community.

Neblett, after taking in some clothes for washing at the 7 Hills center, said that on the undeveloped land, "there's still people in camps that haven't been broken down at all."

But his plan was to leave today after scouting out a new site "way across town."

A trim man wearing a tank top, jeans, and a holstered knife on his hip, Neblett walked with his dog and talked about his belongings, which he said include a cooking stove, pots and pans, and a small table.

"I'm sure I'm going to have to leave 70 percent of the things," Neblett said.

Metro on 09/05/2018

Print Headline: Homeless camps thin as UA deadline nears

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