Homeless Children

Arkansas has 14,052 Homeless Children.
That Is Not a Typo

By Abbi Ross
The Razorback Reporter
De Valls Bluff, Ark. — In the 2017-2018 school year, some 14,052 Arkansas public school students experienced homelessness, according to federal estimates, but the picture of rural homelessness isn’t what you would expect.
In small Arkansas towns such as Brinkley and Mount Vernon, fewer of these homeless children are on the street or in overcrowded motels. Instead, due to tough economic conditions, many of these students are doubling up with family members and an influx of community support.
“You see more and more of families having to live with each other because they cannot financially afford to live in their own home,” said Sandra Glasgow, the homeless liaison for the Brinkley School District around 60 miles east of Little Rock in the Mississippi Delta. According to the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness, 12,504 of those 14,502 homeless students were doubled up with family or relatives.

Glasgow has seen the number of students doubling up in her district increase over the years, she said. Glasgow has worked for the district for around 10 years, she said. The Brinkley School District has around 534 students, around 13% of whom are homeless, according to 2018 data. Glasgow knows that the number is high. The district has around 29 homeless students in the high school and 17 in the elementary school, she said.
Many children classified as homeless are doubling up with friends or relatives, Glasgow said. “You see more and more of families having to live with each other because they cannot financially afford to live in their own home,” Glasgow said.
Doubling up is a term used in the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, the federal law aimed at combating childhood homelessness, which includes, “children and youths who are sharing the housing of other persons due to loss of housing, economic hardship, or a similar reason,” according to the National Center for Homeless Education.
A student living with relatives because their family can no longer afford to live on their own might not be the picture of student homelessness that comes to mind, but it is one of the biggest groups of homeless students. In the 2017-2018 school year, 86% of Arkansas students experiencing homelessness were doubled up.

The Brinkley School District gets a count on homeless students through a packet sent home at the beginning of the year and the students are then kept up with through a list, Glasgow said. “Once they are identified for that school year, then we have to keep them on there for that whole school year,” Glasgow said.
Kris Hodge, the homeless liaison for the Mount Vernon-Enola School District, knows from her experiences that staying in a home that is not their own, is not the same, she said. “It is not home, no matter what anybody thinks,” Hodge said. Hodge uses a checklist based on the McKinney-Vento definitions of homelessness to identify homeless students. She also has the help of a committee at school to identify homeless children, she said. Hodge said she thinks that the McKinney-Vento Act gives her the resources she needs to do her job.
For Emily Shaw, the homeless liaison for the Carlisle School District, all 31 of the homeless students in her district are doubled up for the current school year, she said. Socio-economic issues in the region play a role in the number of doubled-up students in the district, Shaw said.
“They just can’t afford to live on their own,” Shaw said. “These are parents, most of them are working parents. They just are working jobs that are minimum wage jobs and they have two or three children, and they can’t afford to live on their own. And have a vehicle and gas to get to work.”

Another issue Hodge’s students face is going without shelter, she said.
There are 28 students doubled up and 50 unsheltered in the Mount Vernon-Enola School District for the 2019-2020 school year, according to the Arkansas Department of Education Data Center.
“Housing is hard out here,” Hodge said. “Hard. I can hardly find places for my people.”
Housing options are limited in the area and when Hodge can find housing for someone, it is often out of their price range, she said.
Hodges reaches out to the community and even uses Facebook when trying to find resources like housing for her students and their families, she said. The community comes together for almost anything else needed for homeless students in the district, Hodge said.
That sense of community is the same over 160 miles away in Brinkley. Churches play a big role in supporting the school districts.
Local churches are some of the biggest supporters for the Brinkley School District, Glasgow said, helping cover expenses for items ranging from hygiene supplies to clothes, blankets, graduation costs or other items not picked up by federal programs. Sometimes, the local funds will pay for an air mattress.

Churches and hairdressers are another part of the Mount Vernon-Enola School District community that comes together to help homeless students, from donations to free haircuts, Hodge said.
“If I put out an email or something on Facebook saying I need something, I get it,” Hodge said. “I don’t think I’ve ever not gotten anything that was needed.”

Hiding in Plain Sight

Homeless College Students: Hiding in Plain Sight

By Abbi Ross
The Razorback Reporter

Fayetteville, Ark. – John Cardenas, a UA sophomore, knows what it means to be homeless and to work your way up from almost nothing.
Cardenas started his senior year of high school in a homeless shelter in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Born and raised in Fayetteville, Cardenas moved to New Mexico before his senior year in high school. Familial issues left him without a place to stay and in a teen shelter, he said.

John Cardenas in Mullins Library. Photo by Cayden Hartman.

How many students are facing those harsh realities at the University of Arkansas? One measure of need: a University of Arkansas food pantry served 439 students in the Fall of 2019.

Besides this anecdotal information, no one really knows how many students are sleeping in their car on a cold, winter night, crashing on their friend’s couch for weeks on end or even going to a local shelter in search of a place to grab a meal.

There are no clear estimates of homeless UofA students since students are only required to list an address when they apply to the university. Students who are 21 years and younger and who live beyond the 70-mile radius are required to live on campus in their freshman year.

One national survey suggests a significant problem. Nearly four in 10 college students in a survey of 43,000 reported that they did not have adequate housing, according to research on four-year and two-year colleges done by researchers at Temple University and the Wisconsin HOPE Lab. They surveyed students from 66 institutions in 20 states and the District of Columbia.

There are a number of reasons that students face homelessness, said Kevin Fitzpatrick, a UA sociology and criminology professor. Mental health, relationships, job loss, poor financial management and drug abuse are all some of the reasons that a student could become at risk for homelessness, Fitzpatrick said.
“There are lots of different reasons that can get people in this spiral down, that leads to ‘holy crap, I don’t have a place to sleep tonight,’” Fitzpatrick said.
For those students, the solution to their problems is complicated. There is no catch-all resource for a student that is experiencing homelessness.

Cardenas recalled things started turning around for him when he moved into a transitional living program and then in with a friend for the second semester of his senior year. Cardenas said he decided to return to Fayetteville where he had friends willing to help him.
“I was destined to go to college, regardless of the situation,” Cardenas said. “It was just a matter of where and how.” Cardenas enrolled at NorthWest Arkansas Community College and stayed with a friend and her family while working to save money and to get a car, he said.
“I kind of just worked myself out of the situation,” Cardenas said. “I still to this day work full time and go to school full time.”
Local resources such as the Northwest Arkansas Salvation Army and the 7Hills Homeless Center are open to anyone in need. Students who are couch surfing or doubling up with others may not even realize that they are considered homeless under federal law and, as a result, may have access to services and resources.
For example, the University of Arkansas has a food pantry and the UofA Cares program to help students and staff in need (see sidebar). Helping students with rent payments, especially in the winter months to keep up with utilities, is one of the major uses of the UofA Cares fund, said Andrea Allan, the program’s coordinator.

A volunteer works at the Jane B. Gearhart Full Circle Food Pantry, which serves students and staff at the University of Arkansas. Photo by Abbi Ross.

 Housing costs are a challenge for many students, and off-campus housing in Fayetteville is not cheap. The median gross rent in Fayetteville from 2014-2018 was $770, according to the United States Census Bureau. A two-bedroom apartment at popular student housing complexes such as Atmosphere, The Cardinal at West Center, The Vue and Hill Place range from $689-$805 a month per person.
A student working 20 hours a week at a minimum wage job would be making $800 a month before taxes–leaving very little room for expenses outside of rent. Those students working to support themselves are often low-income, first-generation and minority students.
A 2018 study done by researchers at Georgetown University said about half of low-income students are first-generation students.  “Low-income working learners are disproportionately Black (18%) and Latino (25%), women (58%) and first-generation college-goers (47%),” the report said. Around one in four UofA students are first-generation students, according to the Honors College website.
For Cardenas, the development of a support system was critical to helping him find a path out of homelessness.
“When it started out it was definitely pretty gloomy because I didn’t have much support in the beginning of it,” Cardenas said. “Actually, I didn’t have much support at all. It was just child services saying you need to figure yourself out.”
Cardenas thinks that if he was to face a similar situation again he would be mentally tough enough to handle it, he said. “As much as it was degrading, it was empowering,” Cardenas said.

Abbi Ross Profile Post

Abbi Ross is a junior studying journalism with a news and editorial concentration. Ross is currently a senior staff reporter for the Arkansas Traveler and will serve as editor in chief for the 2020-2021 school year. She has covered homelessness since joining the Traveler in the spring of 2019 and building relationships within that community has helped open her eyes as a reporter and develop a love for more investigative journalism.

She can be found on twitter at @AbbiRoss10.

National Service Program Works on Recruiting NWA Young Professionals

National Service Program Works on Recruiting NWA Young Professionals

By Abbi Ross

The Razorback Reporter

Members of a new to the region service program affiliated with the Salvation Army are in the throes of the recruitment process.

Echelon is designed to bring new service and social opportunities to young professionals, organizers said. The goal is to prepare the next generation of Salvation Army supporters by providing young adults with the opportunity to engage with the organization through several outlets for service and networking, according to the organization website.

Twenty-four Echelon chapters are at work in 20 states, with 19 more chapters in development stages, according to the website. Chapters work toward the goal of providing young adults with service and social opportunities.

There is not anything like Echelon in the area, said Blair Cook, public relations and volunteer coordinator for the Northwest Arkansas Salvation Army.

“There is a large market of young professionals that are post-grad and still feel the need to be connected with social groups and service,” Cook said.

Northwest Arkansas is a developing area with a lot of young professionals, with area companies such as J.B. Hunt, Walmart and Tyson, Cook said.

Using social media, internal networking and word of mouth advertising have been the primary forms of recruitment for the chapter so far, Cook said.

Members of Echelon NWA presented their first event, a social hour, Oct. 24 at Bike Rack Brewing Co. in Springdale. Another social hour took place Nov. 7 at Moonbroch in Bentonville. 

The second recruitment event went well and board members saw more new faces from the last event, Cook said.

Echelon has an opportunity: 14,807 UA graduates 35 and under in live in NWA, according to the Arkansas Alumni Association. 

Katie Howe, a 2012 UA graduate, joined the Dallas Echelon chapter after moving to the city post-graduation. Howe will serve as a board member for the NWA Echelon Chapter.

Howe had seen social media posts about Echelon after she moved and knew about UofA connections involved, she said.

Howe wanted to be involved in something tangible,  so she reached out to the Salvation Army.

“You get to see your work, working,” Howe said about her involvement with Echelon.

After returning to NWA and realizing that type of involvement was lacking in the area, she reached out to the Salvation Army about a new chapter, Howe said.

Howe met with the National Echelon Advisory Board in Milwaukee and came back with more knowledge and ways to move the chapter forward, she said.

The chapter, which is still in the recruiting phase, plans on presenting four large service events and two major social events each year, Howe said.

The NWA Echelon chapter will be participating in a kettle takeover with all chapters, Dec. 14, when they will ring bells for the Salvation Army and whichever chapter raises the most wins, Howe said.

The Red Kettle Takeover is an effort to join Echelon chapters across the U.S. with the Salvation Army’s kettle initiative during the holiday season, according to the Echelon Kettle Takeover guide.

Service events will align with needs throughout the year, Howe said.

Community Resources Unite to Provide Day of Services for Those In Need

Community Resources Unite to Provide Day of Services for Those In Need

By Abbi Ross
The Razorback Reporter

Community members and services combined efforts to present a day of services for those in need in Fayetteville.

This year is the 12th for the event called Hope, said Brian McAnally, Homeless Veterans Coordinator at VA Medical Center. From 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Oct. 24 at the Central United Methodist Church in Fayetteville, volunteers dispensed food, legal services, flu shots, haircuts, dental care, foot examinations and offered a variety of other services.

Community members serving lunch at the Central United Methodist Church. Photo by Abbi Ross.

The latest count showed that 529 people in Fayetteville were facing homelessness on Jan. 24, 2019, according to the Northwest Arkansas Continuum of Care’s Point-in-Time census.

NWA Continuum of Care is a non-profit coalition working to end homelessness in the region. Volunteers are passionate about ending homelessness in the region, according to their website.

The Point in Time Count is a HUD-required count of sheltered and unsheltered people experiencing homelessness on a single night in January.

Hope comes from a VA initiative that provides money to each medical center that puts on an event with the community, McAnally said.

“The event itself is a community collaboration,” McAnally said.

Organizations gathered in the activity center and Wesley building of the church.

Clients completed a short form when they arrived. That helped gather statistics on those seeking services. The form looked at several factors, including name, age, gender, race, veteran status, employment status and whether they have any dependents. Lunch was served in conjunction with Community Meals, McAnally said. Community Meals are available at Central United Methodist, Genesis Church, Cross Church, Trinity United Methodist Church, LifeSource International and Seven Hills at various times and days throughout the week.

One of the goals of the day is to create a “one-stop location” for those in need, McAnally said.

John Holland attended the event to work on getting his record expunged, he said. Holland, a cook, moved to Arkansas around five years ago, before becoming homeless around three years ago, he said.

“The biggest thing is trying positive when everyone else is telling you no,” Holland said. “I need help now not six months from now.” Holland was housed through the 7Hills Homeless Center’s HOPE program, he said.

The Activity Center at the Central United Method Church where Hope 2019 was presented. Photo by Abbi Ross

The HOPE programs help provide permanent housing and wrap-around case management services to homeless and near-homeless Veterans in Northwest Arkansas, according to the 7Hills Center website. He also got a haircut at the event, Holland said.

St. Francis House and Ozark Guidance were two of the service booths available at the event. St. Francis House’s focus is on homeless veterans and their families, case manager Adrian Davila said.

The organization offers different forms of assistance including housing, security deposits and utilities, Davila said.

“We do it to love our neighbors and serve one another,” said Glenn Miller, local service coordinator for Central United Methodist Church about the event.

Miller thinks that if someone can help with things such as flu shots, haircuts and a meal, then why not, he said.