by Max Brantley
Little Rock thinks a free hotel building on Interstate 30 (a former Job Corps center) is a great place to put a day center for the homeless. The surrounding residential neighborhood is up in arms.
Wholly apart from the location controversy, it seems problematic to me. It looks like an awful lot of building (a historic white elephant) for a day center. Very expensive to secure, heat, cool and maintain.
1) I heard from a source that there are ways to make this deal more practical and palatable by having a city collaboration with some other agencies on fuller use of the building. One potential partner might be Arkansas Baptist College, which is searching for dorm space for its growing enrollment. College students might be more acceptable neighbors to many in the neighborhood.
2) Mayor Stodola mentioned this possibility and a number of other factors to consider in a response to this item.
FROM MAYOR MARK STODOLA
Max----a few facts to consider which did not make the Dem-Gaz article:
The GSA has just now certified this bldg as a possible site for a homeless day center, an issue which is given priority by the Feds in disposing of surplus property.
We are just now looking at the cost of operating the facility and any other legal issues that may be involved, including legal and environmental. The application deadline is not until October 21st.
We (LR-NLR) are currently spending $375,000 on the homeless issue, so it is a little early to say this is a “white elephant” considering the fact that stimulus money for bldg retrofits is a possibility as well as leasing out space to homeless providers which is also a possibility being explored. Preliminary discussions have been entertained about leasing some space for college dormitory use and classrooms for 3rd and 4th yr students who are majoring in social work who could then provide casework management of the clients. This would also help to alleviate some of the neighborhood concerns. There are also out buildings for the construction trades used for job training that could be used for giving people skills to put them back to work. If the decision is affirmative, the city would pledge additional police security from the substation which is 3 blks away and transportation so that the homeless are not loitering in the neighborhood. Of course, City director Erma Hendrix has voiced her opposition and has stirred this issue before all of the possible details and issues have been explored and analyzed, trying to give it an early death. NIMBY is the name of the game. I am very sensitive to the neighborhood issues and want to see the area thrive. We have put federal housing money in the area and are willing to put more in the area. We are going after a $30,000,000 consortium grant and the NLR homeless day service center is a partner. This site, used for the same type purpose, might greatly enhance our ability to rehabilitate the homes in this area, The face of the homeless is not just drunk, drug addicted ex- felons. Many are women and children. It is estimated that 35% of them are veterans. The Our House homeless shelter is 3 blocks away. We haven’t heard an outcry about them.
Anyone who studies these issues, and a lot of research of other successful models has been reviewed, knows that this needs to be located close to where the homeless congregate.(i.e. the central city) If I could stick this where no one objected, I would. We are open to suggestions. This may not be the site, but no one has currently come up with other viable options to explore. The city will be happy to look at other financially realistic locations. In fact, Director Hendrix promised me other sites to look at, but as yet, none have been offered.
While some people think this area is always a focus for these sorts of things, people forget that there is a prison on the Med Center grounds, (the Dept. of Community Punishment) in the Hillcrest area, that regularly holds 150 convicted felons. I’m sure there are other examples of half-way type houses sprinkled through the city. Like I said, we are happy to look at other realistic sites. No decision or recommendation has been made as yet. We are still in the exploring stage.
At least the City is trying to do something about an issue that many people talk a good game about, but then do nothing. Feel free to share this information.