Affordable Housing

Affordable Housing Shortage
Plays Big Role in Fayetteville
Homeless Problem

By Brooke Tomlin and Elena Ramirez
The Razorback Reporter

U.S. News and World Report ranks Fayetteville, a college town tucked in the northwest corner of Arkansas, as one of the best places to live, thanks to the University of Arkansas, a vibrant music and arts scene, beautiful parks and a big mountain biking culture. What isn’t widely known is Fayetteville is struggling with a significant homeless problem.

The Fayetteville School District has an average of 306 homeless children, or about about 2% of the district’s enrolled students, in the 2018-19 school year, according to the Arkansas Department of Education.

“I believe one of the major factors of why Fayetteville has homeless families is the lack of affordable housing in Fayetteville,” said Lisa Hughey, Families in Transition Coordinator for Fayetteville Public Schools.

Kevin Fitzpatrick, a University of Arkansas sociology professor who studies homelessness, said the population in Washington and Benton counties grew 12% between 2007 and 2017 while the homeless population grew by 152%.

One face of the homeless population is Conrad Kundle, who has been homeless for 3 months after he said he was injured while working at a construction site in Bentonville. The accident left him without a good paying job and an apartment.

Kundle said he is now making a $10 an hour wage at a car wash and he supplements this by emptying the vacuum cleaners, where he would find $15 to $30 a day in change and gift cards.
“I consider myself, no matter what, a survivor.” Kundle said.  

Kundle’s attempts to get back on his feet are common struggles seen by the Fayetteville school counselors.

“The low-income housing is becoming more and more obsolete. We see a trend of people moving from different areas of Arkansas and not realizing what the housing situation looks like here and they set themselves up to fail because they can’t afford it,” Hughey said.

Property prices, while relatively low nationally, have been on the rise in Fayetteville, which raises affordability concerns for many. In the last 10 years, overall house and apartment rents increased by 22% in Fayetteville from an average $884 to $1,083 in 2019, according to the Zillow Rent Index, which measures rents for multifamily, single-family homes, condos and co-ops.

One element of that growth has been the expanding student population at the University of Arkansas. The University of Arkansas’ student population has increased by 29% in the past decade from 21,405 to 27,559, according to the Office of Institutional Research and Assessment. Steve Clark, the chief executive of the Fayetteville Chamber of Commerce, said this enrollment growth led to an influx of corporate money from outside of Arkansas to build student housing. 

“Student housing is a very profitable business here,” said Steve Clark, the chief executive of the Chamber of Commerce. “So, these weren’t local landlords’ buildings. These were major corporation buildings … They had a direct impact on the existing housing inventory.” Some of the new student housing projects carry above-market rents, such as Uptown Apartments, where rent for a single bedroom can cost $1,075 to $1,415, according to its website.

Aside from the student population increase, Northwest Arkansas is becoming one of the nation’s 100 largest metropolitan areas as the region has grown 19% percent in the last decade, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Northwest Arkansas will continue to see an increase in people every day.

Fayetteville is widely viewed as a prosperous community with job opportunities, “but for a lot of our families that are working families and are living off of minimum wage, the rent is so high that it’s hard for them to keep up and continuously sustain that housing,” said Sara Blickenstaff, social worker for Fayetteville Public Schools.  “A lot of our families get evicted because of non-payment and then they have to either double up with a family member or friend.”

In 2019, 15.2 percent of the population in Washington County lived below the poverty line. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, poverty for a two-person household is defined as $16,910, and for a four-person household is defined as $25,750.

The Fayetteville School District has programs in place that assist low-income families and students who find themselves homeless and worried about how they will get their basic needs met. The Families in Transition program, with the help of a federal homeless assistance law called the McKinney Vento Act, helps students and families with enrollment, school meals, and transportation. It also aids children and families with school supplies, clothing, and other resources in the community.

Fayetteville Public Schools identify hundreds of students who meet the guidelines for homeless under the McKinney Vento Act. The McKinney-Vento Act is a federal law that is designed to ensure homeless students can go to school.

Every year, the Fayetteville Public Schools sees an increase in the number of homeless students in the district. The number of children and youth in the Fayetteville School District grew 58.6% between 2012 to 2019. 

Domestic Violence Shelters

Domestic Violence Shelters
Struggle Amid Coronavirus

By Moe Ellis
The Razorback Reporter

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark.— The Covid-19 pandemic causing a national state of emergency, some domestic violence shelters in Northwest Arkansas are having to cut back staffing, which can be particularly difficult for women fleeing violence at home.

“If you think statistically about domestic violence people are most likely home with abusive partners right now and this is a stressful time,” said Teresa Mills, executive director of Peace at Home Family Shelter in Fayetteville that specializes in help victims of domestic violence. “I think the risk for violence for survivors increases in times of distress which this certainly is.”

Mills decided to send home all of the Fayetteville based shelter’s employees at a higher risk of infection, so it is now running on about one-third of the normal staff. While Peace at Home Family Shelter stays open, other women’s shelters in the region have closed their office doors.

Though Peace at Home remains operational, Mills says she is concerned about the immediate effects COVID-19 could take on victims of abuse both in the shelter’s care and elsewhere. She adds many people in the shelter’s care can’t use the resources they need to stay afloat, such as driving people to the Social Security office to process their benefit checks. Since many people are being laid off while businesses continue to close, Mills says this makes it hard for the shelter’s residents to get work.

Amber Lacewell, community engagement and education director for Northwest Arkansas Women’s Shelter, said her shelter is operating similarly to Peace at Home. The staff needs to be flexible to cover all duties, such as increased cleaning. The services need to be adapted since the women in their care have children who can no longer attend school or daycare. Lacewell said they have also limited the number of people they shelter. “It has been especially challenging because there were very few guidelines at the start of how agencies that provide shelter can follow protocols for keeping people safe,” said Lacewell. The Northwest Arkansas Women’s Shelter now focuses on getting all the “kinks” worked out to make the shelter as full running as possible. 

Both Mills and Lacewell worry about how victims of abuse not in their care are holding up during the pandemic. “We tend to see higher stress times result in more violence and abuse and believe this is likely to happen with COVID-19,” said Lacewell

According to Women and Children First, one in four women will suffer abuse; in 2009,  18 Arkansas women were killed due to domestic violence. Shelters like the Northwest Arkansas Women’s Shelter exist to give people affected by domestic violence a temporary, safe place to stay. It has a crisis hotline that is answered 24 hours a day.

According to the 2015 Homeless Report assembled by Kevin Fitzpatrick, a University of Arkansas sociology professor, nearly one in five homeless people interviewed experienced domestic violence.4 Over 90% of those respondents were women. From 2007 to 2015, there was an increase in homeless victims of domestic violence, going from 12% to 18%. Fitzpatrick said 22% of respondents said “personal crisis” was the reason for their homelessness, which could include domestic abuse.

Over the years, Northwest Arkansas’s homeless population has been on the rise. Now with the Coronavirus disease causing a national state of emergency, the shelters that many in the area rely on are forced to make changes. 

The future of these shelters during a national emergency remains unclear since they will likely face financial struggles and lack of personnel. Mills is going about the crisis by “minimizing traffic” in her shelter but still trying to provide a place of safety for those needing it. The COVID-19 pandemic has shifted the infrastructure of many shelters in the region, cutting the residents off from resources they need to make ends meet.

Though these changes help keep everyone safe involved with the shelters, they can also make it difficult for people in immediate danger the help or escape needed. 

While some shelters make large changes, others across the state are running as usual. Jordyn Efird with Saline County Safe Haven Inc. in Benton says one of the biggest setbacks for the shelter is the women’s loss of time with licensed clinical social workers. 

“We haven’t had our support group,” said Efird. “Our clients have been seeing our LCSW through video instead of in person.” 

Saline County Safe Haven, like most Northwest Arkansas shelters, have limited workers to three or four during the week. They have also asked the women in their care to refrain from going out unless it is necessary. Other than those few changes, Efird says things are about the same as they normally are. It will come of these shelters during this national emergency remains unclear. Like many businesses and organizations are facing economic struggles and lack of personnel. The Coronavirus has shifted the infrastructure of many shelters in the region, cutting the residence off from resources they need to make ends meet. 

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.”

Bus Drivers

In Small Schools, Bus Drivers
Are ‘First Responders’
For Homeless Students

By Matthew Moore
The Razorback Reporter

For small school districts in Arkansas, such as rural Newport, combating student homelessness is an all-hands-on-deck effort.

“Bus drivers can tell you who is homeless before anyone can,” said Ronnie Erwin, homeless coordinator for the Newport School District, some 100 miles northeast of Little Rock. More than 10% of the students in her district are experiencing homelessness, according to the state Department of Education.

“Bus drivers are our first responders,” Erwin said. Newport is perhaps best known as the place where Walmart founder Sam Walton got his start in the late 1940s. Today, Jackson County, where Newport resides, is the 11th poorest county in Arkansas, according to data from the U.S. Census. 

In Springdale in Northwest Arkansas, a larger and more vibrant city, school bus drivers are helping to address homeless students in other ways. 

Traci Day, Route Coordinator for Springdale School District, said they are particularly sensitive if a student is being picked up or dropped off at a motel. In these cases, she will ask the bus driver to ensure there are no other students on the bus when they arrive at the location. Day is sensitive to a student’s housing challenges, and so she feels obligated to provide as much cover in these situations as she can for her students.

The Springdale School District gathers information about its homeless students on a registration form filled out by parents, where they describe if they have permanent housing, said Damon Donnell, Student Services Coordinator for the Springdale school district.

A school district’s transportation staff play another important role in helping homeless children. The 1987 McKinney-Vento Act aims to identify and help homeless school children, and one part of the law ensures that school districts will provide transportation for students experiencing homelessness, regardless of where they may be living at any point in the school year. If a student’s school of origin is in Springdale, for example, but the student somehow moves to a neighboring town, Springdale works in tandem with the student’s new district to provide transportation for that student.

Photo by Austin Pacheco on Unsplash

For some school staff, working with the homeless students is deeply personal. Erwin’s mother passed away from cancer when she was just seven. She recalls a season of life after that where her father traveled for work, which often left her spending weeks at a time living with friends and other family members. Her living situation, with no fixed address,  would have classified her as homeless under today’s federal regulations.

Although Erwin has the title of Newport’s homeless coordinator, she is facing an uphill battle. She does not have the luxury of focusing all of her attention solely on the homeless population in her school district. Erwin’s full title is “Career Technical Educator/Perkins/Gifted and Talented/AP/Homeless/Migrant Coordinator.” She loves interacting with so many different pockets of students but acknowledges her limitations in her myriad roles.

Despite all of this, Erwin likes her odds. She sees the potential in her students, and even occasionally finds herself covering their activity fees out of pocket to ensure they don’t feel left out or stigmatized by their living arrangement. Perhaps one day when she finds herself ready for retirement, she’ll be replaced by another formerly homeless student.

Veteran Podcast

The Last Homeless Veteran?

Veterans Health Care System of the Ozarks, Fayetteville, Ark.

By Matthew Moore
The Razorback Reporter

Fayetteville, Ark.—On Veteran’s Day, November 11, 2019, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette ran an article entitled, “Vet homelessness on path to effectively end in Northwest Arkansas.” Steve Burt, then executive director of the Northwest Arkansas Continuum of Care, said at the time his group had a goal to end veteran homeless by the end of 2019.

“We know who they are,” Burt said.” We have what their needs are, and we’re building system capacity to serve them.”

Yet by mid-April of 2020, the region still has not ended veteran homelessness.

Why not?

Well, that’s complicated. Listen to our podcast.