by Max Brantley
The Democrat-Gazette carried an interesting article (pay wall) today about the Department of Veterans Affairs' plans to locate a service center for vets at 10th and Main in the old Cook Jeep building.
Mayor Mark Stodola is fit to be tied. U.S. Rep. Tim Griffin, who wraps himself in the cloak of the military at every opportunity, hasn't exactly covered himself with honor here, sniffing that his permission wasn't sought in advance for relocation of a growing veterans service agency barely a mile from where it currently sits. Apparently giving needy veterans drug and alcohol abuse counseling, psychiatric services, vocational help and meals isn't a service to be practiced in certain neighborhoods without a congressional hall pass.
I write partly in embarrassment at my dereliction. I've known about this move for weeks. I made one call, missed a VA spokesman, and then forgot to follow up. I bring this up only to counter Mayor Stodola's protests that he and others were blind-sided. Stodola said he knew nothing about it until this week, despite legal notices that ran for eight days in July.
Interesting downtown news...
It's official, according to the VA:
A VA homeless services is moving into Cook Jeep property by this Spring. They will do construction for offices and staff are told they will move in by July!
Note the exclamation point. Another commenter also cheered the news. I don't know if it's because this has been a somewhat derelict stretch and a quiet social service agency operating daylight hours on weekdays is better than an abandoned car dealership. Or maybe they just cheer an agency serving our military veterans who bring problems back to civilian life after serving the country in the last decade of war.
This agency has operated without remark from the city at 2nd and Ringo, 11 blocks from City Hall, for 15 years. I don't know if their clientele presents any problem there. It is hard to differentiate sometimes. The Salvation Army is nearby and there's no doubt that street people attracted to its meals and lodging have been a nuisance to those struggling with some success to maintain homes and businesses in a neighborhood that has had some redevelopment.
I do know this:
* A veterans service agency with medical services is not a transient shelter or a soup kitchen. Its customers are seeking help. It is wrong, dishonestly so, to call it a duplication of services with the long promised and still undelivered homeless day center, as Stodola did.
* Downtown is a better place to reach the homeless than the city day center that someday may be completed on Confederate Boulevard, almost to Granite Mountain.
* Stodola's argument that the center shouldn't go across the street from a liquor store is laughable. Is there a place in the city, including its new homeless shelter on Confederate, that isn't an easy stroll from a liquor store or other alcohol outlet?
* Main Street a "budding" business district? I wish. I wish fervently that was so. But recent development on Main has been mostly south of I-630 (rich irony, that), not on the stretch north to the convention center. Many blocks in the city core are so empty, unsavory types are rarely seen because there's no one to panhandle or mug most of the time.
Yes, I know this center also won't turn away non-vets just seeking a meal. And, yes, I know it's a rare person who wouldn't prefer their neighborhoods cleared of homeless, poor, alcoholics, drug users, the psychotic, lame, halt and hungry. It is uncomfortable to be confronted with human affliction. But the eternal question: If not Main, or whatever other location is being proposed, where?
The mayor, Griffin and neighbors will discuss that and other questions further at 6 p.m. Thursday at the downtown alert center, 500 E. 21st.
I like what Kathy Wells, leader of the Coalition of Little Rock Neighborhoods wrote to me in an e-mail on this subject:
Ask how anyone can identify a homeless person as being a vet when some encounter occurs. I think good folks are tarnished by bad actions of others, when all mingle in same population. Like some who won't come to visit at my house, because downtown is unsafe - that stings me. Enough to work harder at remedies; not enough to move.
I want homeless folks off the streets - the right way. Moving into aid programs to help fix what is damaged. This Ctr. does this; soup kitchens and emergency shelters do not. Their mission is different - come all, no questions asked.
Some now offer referrals to those service providers, and that is good; some have aid on premises. The Stewpot offers medical screening to its lunch guests. Nobody gets required to take the aid.
And some won't enter aid programs; won't leave the streets - even vets.
But this Ctr. Works with those who do accept aid. Think they perform well. There is a contract; there is case management; even bed checks; there is good behavior required, and misbehavior gets someone ejected from program.
That's same model Our House uses.
Kathy wrote earlier to downtown neighborhood people (note to City Hall and Congressman Griffin: sign up for newsletter and you won't be caught offguard so often)
DNA checked on the report that the Drop In Ctr. for veterans would relocate to the former Cook Jeep Co. at Main & 10th St.
Lynn Hemphill, homeless program coordinator, said that no determination had been made on any relocation of the service, although officials had looked at four or five places to move.
The service has long outgrown its space at 1101 W. Second St., he continued, and has sought to move the past 15 years. The service started with two on staff, and now has over 30 staff members, working from three locations.
Hemphill welcomed visitors to their Second St. office to learn how the program operates. Call in advance to arrange a visit at 257-4405.
About 40 veterans a day are served by the program, Hemphill said, which offers a comprehensive array of services to enable a veteran to get off the streets and move to better functioning, including permanent housing. There is security at the office, he said, and veterans do not loiter on the sidewalk out front.
Shuttles transport veterans to the two hospital facilities in Little Rock and North Little Rock. Beds for veterans are provided at the North Little Rock campus, he said, plus 80 by contract all over the community. Some 160 beds are occupied daily in this service, he said.
At the Drop In Day Treatment Center, Hemphill said, staff offers a place to shower, get clothes, get breakfast or lunch, and get a variety of therapeutic group meetings, including life skills, social skills, peer-related discussions, job skills, education, nutrition, health maintenance, aid for getting disability, etc.