Washington County Jail Releases Inmates, Dozens Homeless, Amid COVID-19 Concerns

Washington County Jail Releases Inmates, Dozens Homeless, Amid COVID-19

Washington County Detention Center. Photo by Gina Shelton.

By Michael Adkison
The Razorback Reporter

The Washington County Detention Center, one of the largest jails in Arkansas, released a third of its inmates including some homeless detainees over a 10-day span in March to reduce the risk of a COVID-19 outbreak behind bars.

An analysis by Razorback Reporter of jail’s detainee roster showed a reduction of 219 persons from March 18 to March 27. The Washington County Sheriff’s Office said it aimed to release nonviolent offenders, many of whom would be monitored electronically. Of that group released, some 33, or 14%, individuals were classified as homeless. 

More than 200 detainees were released between March 18 and March 27. Thirty-three identified as homeless. Graphic by Michael Adkison.

The Razorback Reporter examined home addresses and pending criminal charges for 637 detainees listed on March 18, 2020 and March 27, 2020. Homeless detainees were determined by looking at their addresses on the roster; some were listed as homeless while others listed the address of a local homeless shelter or a motel.

“Being homeless was not in our criteria regarding release,” Kelly Cantrell, Washington County Sheriff’s Department spokeswoman, said in an emailed statement, “but we are providing information to individuals upon their release who may be homeless.” Sheriff’s Department officials did not return requests for interviews. 

Containing spread of the virus has been a prominent topic at the Washington County Sheriff’s Department. Sheriff Tim Helder has endorsed self-quarantining as an effort to prevent spread of the disease. Helder himself was in self-quarantine in March after his son was exposed to the virus. Sheriff Helder tested negative for COVID-19 and has since returned to work.

See Details of the Razorback Reporter Analysis:

Around one in ten detainees identify as homeless. Graphic by Michael Adkison.

Kevin Fitzpatrick, a University of Arkansas sociology professor and expert on local homelessness, said that releasing these nonviolent inmates was the right response for the detention center.

“Those individuals could and should be released for further adjudication at a time when the coronavirus threat is no longer the case in NWA,” Fitzpatrick said prior to the release.

The sheriff’s department said those detainees released were as nonviolent offenders. The Razorback Reporter analysis showed around three-quarters of the released homeless detainees had administrative charges, and nearly half were charged with drug-related crimes. 

In general, homeless people released from jail have particular difficulty in finding housing, according to Nick Robbins, executive director of Returning Home, a transitional housing initiative in Springdale, Arkansas, One homeless advocate, Alvin Davis, said there is little support for people released from jail.

“The convicts that come out of jail…they let them out a two o’clock in the morning, there’s no ORT (Ozark Regional Transit) and they have to walk somewhere, they have no place to go,” said Davis, a homeless veteran. 

At least six of the detention center inmates and five released detainees listed the 7Hills Homeless Center as their address, which is about 1 mile away from the detention center.

The vast majority of homeless detainees had administrative charges, including failure to pay fines. Graphic by Michael Adkison.

Interviews with homeless people revealed significant problems finding housing if they have a criminal record. Waylon B. Sessions said his family is living in an apartment, but he formally cannot live with them due to his criminal record. “I cannot be put on the lease, or they would not have gotten the apartment,” he said.

The Washington County Detention Center has had a significant issue with overcrowding prior to the COVID-19 outbreak. In December, there were some 90 detainees sleeping on mats on the floor. In an open letter from March 2019, Sheriff Helder said he has been pushing to ease overcrowding since 2014 and called for a jail expansion.

“We have been very aggressive administratively, releasing misdemeanor and non-violent offenders at a rate of approximately 200 per month,” Helder said in the open letter.

Helder proposed a $38 million, 600 bed expansion of the jail in 2019, which was rejected by Washington County justices of the peace. 

Washington County Sheriff Tim Helder said the Detention Center is in desperate need of an expansion. Photo by Gina Shelton.

“We’re going to have to have an expansion,” Helder said in 2019. “Look at our homeless population and how it’s grown in this area.”

A review of detainee records showed most of the homeless inmates still in the detention center have administrative charges, although some have felony, violent, or drug charges.

Inmates within the Detention Center fluctuate greatly—some detainees would be released after only a few days. As a result, the number of homeless individuals varies from day to day.

“A lot of these folks just need to be dried out, treated, and get back on their feet,” Helder said. “We can be part of that, but it all takes money.”

–Whitney King and Rob Wells contributed to this report.

Michael Adkison is a student at the School of Journalism and Strategic Media at the University of Arkansas 

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.

City Resources Work To Assist Homeless Population From All Angles

City Resources Work To Assist Homeless Population From All Angles

By Abbi Ross
The Razorback Reporter

Labeling bags of cat and dog food, finding the best contractor to fix a hole in the roof of a family home and meeting with recently rehomed families are all in a day’s work for employees of the city Community Resource Division.

Resources offered by Fayetteville tackle several issues those in need might face,

Adam Roberts, one of the project coordinators for the City of Fayetteville, labeling dog food at the Ranger’s Pantry Pet Food Bank. Photos by Abbi Ross.

including transportation, finding housing, repairing houses and securing housing.

“We are kind of hitting it from all points,” said Yolanda Fields, community resources director for the city.

The Fayetteville Hearth program provides assistance with rent, housing and utility deposits, as well as case management, according to the September 2019 quarterly report.

The program has helped house and provided case management for 196 people since February of 2016.

At the end of September, 38 scattered-site units were occupied across the city, housing families and individuals, Fields said.

Hearth Place is a part of the program in which the city collects everything from home goods to toiletries to kitchen essentials and gives them individuals in a laundry basket when they are housed, Fields said.

The Hearth program uses a survey to assess the situation of clients and goes from there, said Robert Bradley, one of the case managers for the city.

“If you have three kids and are sleeping in your car, you are going to be higher on the list,” Bradley said.

After getting in touch with individuals to determine whether they will need short-term or permanent assistance, they will complete an application and they then have 30 days to look for housing, Bradley said.

The city assistance for permanent housing is available as long as needed, as long as rules are followed, Bradley said.

Adam Roberts, one of the project coordinators for the City of Fayetteville, organizing dog food at the Ranger’s Pantry Pet Food Bank.

There is no cap on the number of families the city can help, but there is only so much a case manager can handle, Bradley said.

If people do call for immediate services, they are referred to the Salvation Army, Bradley said.

The pet food bank is another one of the city’s resources available for those in need

Ranger’s Pantry Pet Food Bank was founded in 2010 and works to keep struggling families, individuals and their pets together during financial hardship, according to the Fayetteville Community Development Program website.

Through Oct. 25 the pantry has distributed more than 160,000 pounds of pet food, according to the city website.

Ranger’s Pantry has assisted 118 families, including 238 pets, and distributed more than 8,000 pounds of food for the year through Oct. 24, according to the official Facebook page.

Winter is the busier season for the pantry, especially for day laborers, but it aligns with the holiday season where people are more inclined to donate resources, said Adam Roberts, one of the project coordinators for the City of Fayetteville.

One of the trailers used for transportation at Ranger’s Pantry Pet Food Bank.

The main focus of Ranger’s Pantry is cat and dog food, but it does occasionally get bedding for rodents, birdseed and other items, Adams.

The pantry also accepts pet beds, leashes and toys.

The only restriction for the program is that clients must live in Fayetteville. If a client is homeless the pantry will accept somewhere such as 7Hills Homeless Shelter for their address.  Others are required to bring a bill for proof of address, Adams said.

“Income requirements are set by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, but we take it by faith,” Adams said.

The city assists with resources including taxis and transit services, housing rehabilitation program and the Help a Neighbor Fund.

The entrance to Ranger’s Pantry Pet Food Bank, which is open from 12:00-3:00 p.m. on Friday’s.

The latest count showed 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 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 that HUD requires Continuums of Care conduct.

For those 529 as well as families and individuals who might not have been counted, a variety of resources are available in Fayetteville.

Options Available for University of Arkansas Students Facing Homelessness

Services Available for Students Facing Homelessness

University of Arkansas students facing homelessness have multiple resources available through different organizations, such as 7Hills Homeless Center and the Salvation Army.

Nearly four in 10 college students in a survey of 43,000 reported that they did not have adequate housing, according to a national research on four-year and two-year colleges.

Researchers at Temple University and the Wisconsin HOPE Lab surveyed students from 66 institutions in 20 states and the District of Columbia and concluded that 36% of college students did not have proper housing. They define homelessness as “a person is without a place to live, often residing in a shelter, an automobile, an abandoned building or outside.” They define housing insecurity as students who are staying with friends, struggling to pay rent or need to move frequently.

Data from the UofA on the number of students who face homelessness is not clear. Students are only required to list an address when they apply to the university.

When students apply, they have an address. University officials do not know whether it is not their home address, said Suzanne McCray, vice provost for enrollment and the dean of admissions.

UA freshmen who are under 21 years old and do not live within 70 miles of the campus must live on campus their first year, according to the UA housing page. After their first-year students have the option of moving off campus.

For some students who are in that in-between stage of affording dorms or apartment leases, one option is crashing on couches, moving from place to place and more. Some might end up being classified as homeless.

Homelessness in college students is not what most people consider homelessness, said Kevin Fitzpatrick, a UA sociology and criminology professor.

“They will likely be couch surfing, they won’t be in the places we typically find homeless people,” Fitzpatrick said.

Multiple resources are available for those in need.

The 7Hills Homeless Center serves those in need in northwest Arkansas in a variety of ways. 7Hills has a Day Center that helps meet basic human needs such as meals, showers, storage lockers, laundry, clothing, blankets and a safe mail drop.

The center serves more than 500 individuals a month at the Day Center, according to the 7Hills webpage.

The Walker Family Residential Community, a 7Hills program, provides transitional and permanent supportive housing. The center also has a veterans service program.

The Salvation Army of Northwest Arkansas has served both traditional and nontraditional students, said Ambra Bruce, director of social services for the Salvation Army in Fayetteville

A variety of services are offered such as access to a food pantry, access to a case manager and access to clothing and food vouchers, as well as prescription assistance, Bruce said.

The Salvation Army also has emergency shelters in Fayetteville and Bentonville.

“Quality of life and wellbeing are critical determinants of student success,” Fitzpatrick said.