By Erin McGuinness
The Razorback Reporter
Fayetteville is taking steps to permanently control, or end, homelessness among veterans in the city, a feat that Mayor Lioneld Jordan said in 2014 he thought could be achieved by 2015.
That goal was an outgrowth of President Barack Obama’s goal to end homelessness among veterans. In “Opening Doors,” cities throughout the country were asked to join the effort to end homelessness among veterans by 2015, a challenge that Jordan accepted.
While the administration did not meet the goal, the number of homeless veterans nationally steadily declined by 47 percent between 2010 and 2016, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. But in northwest Arkansas, the number of homeless veterans increased, according to data collected by Kevin Fitzpatrick, UA sociology professor and Community and Family Institute director.
Brian McAnally, Health Care for Homeless Veterans manager, works with homeless veterans throughout northwest Arkansas.
“The VA has poured lots of resources into our area because we are one of the only areas where the homelessness is actually growing,” McAnally said, citing the growth in northwest Arkansas economy and the highly regarded VA hospital in Fayetteville as attractive to veterans.
There are approximately 195 homeless veterans in Fayetteville, including those in permanent housing, Fitzpatrick said. Approximately 60 are without housing services, living in emergency shelters, the woods, with friends and in other temporary situations.
The city’s goal is to reach functional zero, the point when more housing units are secured than the number of homeless veterans in need, said Yolanda Fields, Community Resources director for Fayetteville.
Fields runs the city’s Hearth program, a service that aims to provide transitional or permanent housing for the homeless in Fayetteville.
“Once you have more units on an average than you have homeless, you have reached functional zero because you can house everybody that is homeless,” Fields said. “Ending homelessness,” is something that is not achievable, she said.
Once the goal is reached, people who become homeless, or homeless people who move to the area, can be housed, she said.
The city is working with the Center for Community Care to list all of the homeless persons in Fayetteville, their needs and how they can be helped. The platform is called Hark and serves two purposes – as a data base and as a hub for homeless people and others to find service providers including healthcare and shelter.
The Center for Community Care began in September 2016, said Ben Cashion, director of content and training for Hark at the Center for Community Care. The organization was approached by the Continuum of Care in November about a need for a list of homeless people in northwest Arkansas. Through this, multiple homeless shelters in the area that often serve the same homeless people can coordinate their data, and the number of homeless people can be tracked. The data is being collected and should be available in less than a year, Cashion said.
When the mayor joined the effort to end veteran homelessness in Fayetteville by 2015, “the goal for collaborating with area service and resource agencies to raise awareness and come up with a plan was an attainable goal,” Donnie Osborn, assistant to the mayor said via email.
Fields hopes Fayetteville can reach functional zero among veterans by the end of the year, she said.