IN SIGHT: "Out of sight out of mind is not an option," says sign held by Madie Grace Carter.
The Little Rock City Board this afternoon favorably
received an ad hoc commission's recommendation to establish a place for evening meals for the homeless
beneath a tent on grounds of the city homeless day center on Springer Boulevard, more than three miles from a former downtown location.
The commission's recommendation came after an ordinance was proposed by City Manager Bruce Moore
to make it all but impossible for church groups to continue to serve meals to the homeless under the Broadway Bridge. Those meals were relocated to a small mission on Markham Street when Broadway Bridge construction began, but construction is nearing an end and downtown establishment powers are anxious that homeless not return to the spot for meals.
Those who serve the homeless are split on the idea of moving the evening meals, with city shuttles running people out to the site (and presumably back or to night shelters.) Some view it as merely a means to put the homeless out of sight (and ultimately fruitless because the homeless will be drawn downtown regardless.)
A demonstration of that viewpoint greeted people arriving at City Hall before the meeting.
who led the ad hoc commission, told the City Board the recommendation was not perfect but it was part of a considered start for some long-term solutions for helping homeless. It wouldn't eliminate "food-sharing" in downtown Little Rock, he said. He said the proposal did "unite" many people, including a number of homeless advocates. He said it could improve access to broader range of services for the homeless. by bringing them close to services provided during the day (though not at night) at the homeless center operated by Jericho Way.
Johnson said many downtown interests, from the Downtown Partnership to
the Clinton Foundation, were committed to helping. He said he'd been working to meet with all the church groups that had participated in the bridge feeding. He offered a written testimonial from a homeless man who said moving to Jericho Way, the homeless day center, would alleviate conflicts about the use of the park (or actually a parking lot near the Riverfront Park.)
The committee proposes a 90-day trial of serving on Springer Boulevard, with additional transportation provided by the city. Further meetings would continue about the Broadway Bridge project. Johnson noted the mayor had volunteered to build a pavilion for the evening meals.
Director Capi Peck
said it took something "ugly" like the proposed ordinance to bring a more compassionate idea forward. She congratulated Johnson on his work.
Director Erma Hendrix
asked if Johnson had talked to neighbors of the shelter, which is in her ward. He said the work had been public and the committee was happy to talk to all. She complained later about concentrating social services in her ward. It's a "dumping ground," she said.
Director Ken Richardson
asked what it would take to make the idea operational. Stodola said some expense for van transportation would be necessary. At this point, there's not an official ordinance or resolution before the board. The mayor said the earlier ordinance — setting limits on mass feeding and permit fees — would be withdrawn.
Richardson said he remains "flummoxed" about the rationale for the proposal. Were the homeless people asking, he asked? No, it was from impact
on the city by feeding the homeless downtown, Johnson acknowledged. "But through that
there's been some unification and teamwork," Johnson said. But Richardson did finally drive it the admission of the obvious — the park ordinance was drawn up to prevent the resumption of feeding under the bridge. City Attorney Tom Carpenter said research to accomplish that led to the park use limit ordinance because a ban couldn't be constitutionally defended.
The ordinance was tabled 45 days ago. It died today without a successful motion to put it back on the Board agenda.
Director Dean Kumpuris
, a leading protector of Riverfront Park, defended the effort to make a broader effort for the homeless and said it was a mistake to think just giving some people some food accomplished anything. He praised Johnson's work. Other directors were similarly supportive.
Under Board procedures, the public was not allowed to speak tonight but they can speak at the regular board meeting next week. There was a discussion of covering the plan in a formal resolution on time and cost or doing so without a formal action.
Director Doris Wright
noted that an earlier effort to expand van services to pick up homeless and take them to Jericho Way from her part of town hadn't proved successful.