by Max Brantley
I'm happy to share thoughts from another downtown resident, former state Rep. Robert Johnston, on homeless people downtown. He feeds them breakfast five days a week at the Salvation Army center on West Markham and invites support from others for the Feed the Hungry program. His experience with homeless veterans is somewhat different than the drunken psychopath image being peddled by Mayor Mark Stodola and U.S. Rep. Tim Griffin.
BY ROBERT JOHNSTON
Kathy Wells of DNA invited me to tell us status of your Feed the Hungry program.
First, while I have more of your interest than perhaps later, a little background. I have lived for 40 years within 10 blocks of the Gov. Mansion. The Mansion was not the attraction as much as Community Bakery. But the real attraction and the real reason is that I was taken by a historic house at 22nd and Broadway in 1971 and liked the neighborhood despite its negatives, which were much greater in 1971 than in 2012. I have lived at 10th and Scott, 14th and Scott, 16th and Cumberland, 17th and Arch, all in National Register Historic Structures.
I was part of a group of then Yuppies who banded together in Neighborhood Preservation, including creating the Broadway Neighborhood Association, which evolved into the DNA. We also put our meager money where our passions were — both in residential and business investments. Many of us put $50,000 and $90,000 into rehabs, which would be 10 times that today.
21 of us created a Downtown Development Corp., which bought two run-down residences, rehabbed them and resold them…at what we had in them. We each anted $1000, which would be about $10,000 today. We got our investment back, but no profits, except in seeing benefits from contributing our dollars and sweat equity there and elsewhere.
I was also a Quapaw Quarter Association Board Member for 6 years, Chair of the 1st Candlelight Tour, and Chair of the Board for 2 years.
All that as background to Feed the Hungry: Feed the Hungry feeds breakfast 5 mornings a week / 52 weeks a year/ holidays included/ to 100-120 homeless. We have been doing this for about 7 years. This arose out of my serving lunch at Stew Pot/ 1st Presbyterian/ which has been serving the needy for about 30 years. I discovered that was the only meal for many of the clients.
Matilda Buchanan and I started Feed the Hungry. For 100+ days the two of us cooked and served breakfasts in a building near the Salvation Army. Over time we recruited others to help. As the City of Little Rock promise to provide a building for this helping the needy evaporated, we served breakfast Under the Broadway Bridge, in the rotunda at City Hall, in the east entrance porch of City Hall, in the City Hall Garage, at 2nd Baptist Café, at Stew Pot, in a FEMA Trailer under the Broadway Bridge and now at Salv. Army, between Doe’s and the Train Station. A number of neighbors in the SOMA/Gov. Mansion area help .
If you would like to help — with boiled eggs or juice, time or money, email email@example.com.
The above is perhaps helpful background to what I describe next. I and dozens of our team members have had literally thousands of face-to-face contacts with the homeless, including veterans. 99.9% of those contacts have been pleasant, rewarding, delightful, rewarding to us.
The vast, VAST majority of homeless are well-behaved, appreciative, delightful citizens of Little Rock, with the wide variety of congenial behaviors you encounter in your dealings with other non-homeless citizens. The teeny, tiny minority who are anti-social are reflective and similar to the dysfunctional citizens I encountered teaching classes at UALR, walking down Main as crowds gathered or left Juanita’s at 13th and Main or anywhere in the River Market, or the drivers speeding down Broadway talking on their cellphones, etc.
Demonizing the homeless saddens me. It is not how I see this wonderful neighborhood. I think of what is on the Statue of Liberty, "give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses, yearning to be free."
That is more what I would like to see on the banners leading into the Quapaw Quarter.