Number of homeless at Salvation Army to double when temperatures drop


Despite the dropping temperatures, many homeless people are still outside in camps like this one in Walker Park in south Fayetteville. (Photo by Ginny Monk)

Despite the dropping temperatures, many homeless people are still outside in camps like this one in Walker Park in south Fayetteville. (Photo by Ginny Monk)

By Ginny Monk

The Razorback Reporter

As temperatures plunge below freezing over the next few months, the Salvation Army will begin opening its emergency shelters to the 2,462 homeless of northwest Arkansas.

Nearly 700 of them live on the streets or in emergency shelters, according to the most recent survey from the Community and Family Institute. The rest lived in transitional housing, with friends or relatives in permanent supportive housing, in treatment centers, or in motels, according to the survey.

Not only do the regular beds at the Salvation Army fill quickly, but workers convert “activity rooms” into places where more people can stay at the shelter, said Mary Matthews, area commander and corps officer of the Northwest Arkansas Salvation Army.

Homeless Graph (2)

“Not only are our shelters full, but then we open cold-night shelters, which are overflow rooms, so we might have double the capacity,” Matthews said.

The Salvation Army in Fayetteville has room for 40 to 50 people without the overflow shelter, and as they open the doors to the overflow shelter, they can have as many as 100 people in a night, Matthews said.

From June 2014 to July of this year, 2,532 stayed in the two area Salvation Army shelters, said Lindsey Strong, the volunteer and public relations coordinator.

This is because some of the people who live in the woods most of the year try to get inside as it gets colder, she said.

“The people who choose or the people who are chronically homeless may be living outside in the rest of the year, but as the temperatures drop, they cannot handle that,” she said.

The chronically homeless make up 28 percent of the homeless living in Washington and Benton counties, according to the 2015 Community and Family Institute Homeless Report. The Department of Housing and Urban Development defines “chronically homeless” as anyone who has a disability and has been homeless at least four times in three years, or has been homeless for a year or more.

The two mostly commonly reported are anxiety and paranoia, according to the report.

Despite the increase in the number of people in the shelter, as many 40 people live outside in northwest Arkansas, even during the coldest months of the year, said Kevin Fitzpatrick, UA sociology professor and homelessness researcher.

“That clearly is, that’s an unacceptable number,” Fitzpatrick said.

The change in weather and accounting for those who live outside brings to light the question of whether enough services are provided for the homeless in the region, Fitzpatrick said.

“If we want to get rid of this unsheltered population and the threat of cold weather that is most severe to them, then I think the thing to do is to build a micro-shelter village,” Fitzpatrick said.

This micro-shelter village would consist of 15 to 20, 10-by-10-foot shelters, built without plumbing or electricity, but refuge that would provide clean and dry living space.

They would also have lockable doors, he said. Transitional housing can provide an easier way for the homeless to ease into permanent housing, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development website. It also would make it easier for shelters to provide services to the homeless because instead of being scattered throughout the woods, mostly in areas in south Fayetteville, they would be all at one location, Fitzpatrick said.

Village shelters would get people out of the woods or emergency shelters and get them into a house, Fitzpatrick said.

“I wouldn’t characterize these as permanent,” Fitzpatrick said. “These are temporary and it’s a stopping-off point to where they move into the continuum.”

A continuum of care is a planning body that coordinates housing and services funding for homeless families and individuals, according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness.

A version of this article appeared in the Arkansas Traveler.