The $3 million Hope Campus recommended by Dr. Robert Marbut could move closer to fruition if Old Fort Homeless Coalition (OFHC) Vice-President and Director of the Fort Smith Housing Authority Ken Pyle has anything to do with it.
Speaking after presenter Marbut delivered his strategic action plan to the OFHC at Friday’s (Jan. 20) monthly meeting, Pyle revealed, “We’ve identified an ideal building at 611 South Fourth Street as a great location (Plant 3 building, formerly Riverside Furniture),” Pyle said. “We need two anchor tenants. The River Valley Food Bank and Next Step want to move already.”
The Salvation Army is also interested in moving its emergency shelter to the campus, Pyle noted. “We hope they would wish to move (all operations) inside the campus,” he said.
Representatives from these so-called “anchor tenants” were unavailable for comment on Friday, but Pyle assured the Hope Campus, a centralized location for homeless services, “has not been a hard sell.”
“Everyone has a great spirit about it, and agrees that meeting the homeless where they are without criminalizing them is in the best interests of the homeless and the community,” Pyle said.
Asked how the participating parties would be able to pay for the facility, the director seemed optimistic.
“We’re looking at a $400,000 HUD (Housing and Urban Development) grant intended for the assistance of homeless individuals with chronic mental illness. The Dallas Federal Home Loan program also offers $7,000 per bed for such a facility, and since the Hope Campus would have 75 beds, that’s over $500,000 right there.”
Pyle continued: “We’ll also be asking the city of Fort Smith to consider applying a $350,000 CDBG (Community Development Block Grant) to the project,” which, Pyle hopes, would come to a vote at the April Fort Smith City Council meeting.
In addition to participation from United Way and Salvation Army, Pyle said the Plant 3 building is within an area eligible for the New Market Tax Credit, which could see a “15 to 20 percent” savings, resulting in “around $300,000-$400,000” off the costs, he said. “All this before we even get in to private fund raising.”
Explaining the facility’s purpose to attendees, Dr. Marbut added, “By having a centralized location for homeless care and services, it’s easier to get Fort Smith’s homeless the help they need and engage them in the system rather than enabling them through street feeding and panhandling, which, while well-intentioned, just encourage homeless individuals to stay where they are.”
Marbut tried a similar approach in San Antonio. “Food costs were dropped dramatically within a short time. Churches now have almost all of the meals covered. And that’s the type of thing you’ll see if you put this into motion. The effect on donations and volunteers start happening quickly, as do the raw donations—clothing, food, furniture.”
Marbut continued: “No one wants feeding and generosity to stop. It just needs to be done in a holistic and engaging way. What I’ve seen is that your community really wants to help people. They really do.”
Marbut also said faith-based participation in the facility would not prevent churches from ministering to the homeless, “as long as it is done within reasonable parameters,” stating chapels or places of worship would be allowed.
In San Antonio, Marbut noted, street homelessness fell 94% in the entire county within four to five months. However, Marbut warned the longer the process takes, the worse the homelessness problem in Fort Smith will get. “Not doing anything will see a 20% increase in street homelessness within the next three years.”
Concerning operations, Marbut recommends the OFHC manage the facility, but that additions and restructuring to the board of directors would be necessary to incorporate input from anchor tenants.
“It’s about checking the ego at the door. You’ve already got this great resource (in the OFHC). Why not allow them to be the lead agency? Of course, the Food Bank, Next Step, and Salvation Army would need to be represented.”
Marbut continued: “The only problem I see right now is a lack of coordination. But Fort Smith is doing a lot right with regards to the homeless.”