One in four homeless throughout the nation and 20% of the homeless in Fort Smith are Armed Forces veterans.
For the Next Step Day Room (NSDR), as well as attendees at Thursday’s (May 10) Buddy Smith Home ribbon cutting ceremony, those numbers are simply unacceptable.
An emotional Lance Fisher, NSDR executive director, recounted the voyage of the Buddy Smith Home from its June 29, 2011, groundbreaking until Thursday’s opening, praising the Belle Grove Historic District for embracing the project.
Fisher continued: “As a newcomer to this community, I cannot believe how many have said, ‘We believe in you, and we trust you with these funds, to do what you say you’re going to do, to help put an end to the homeless problem for our veterans.’”
Located at 500 N. 9th St., the Buddy Smith Home will house 16 people, and is named for Ralph T. “Buddy” Smith, a veteran of the Army Air Corps, who served in the Pacific, and whose family was one of many private donors contributing $160,000 to the $640,000 project.
“We were lucky in a tough economy to go back into the community and find private donations, such as those from the Smith family, as well as some fantastic partners,” Fisher said.
The remainder of funding came from a Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) of around $220,000, as well as grant monies obtained from the Federal Home Loan Bank of Dallas.
Over the last year, Fort Smith’s NSDR reported helping more than 250 homeless veterans through the services it provides.
Joining Fisher in remarks were Tim Smith, son of Buddy Smith and NSDR board member, and Rep. Tracy Pennartz, D-Fort Smith, who is also a veteran of the U.S. Navy.
Tim Smith remembered in Buddy a man, “who would take the (homeless) men over on Fourth Street for coffee and breakfast, so they could start their days feeling good about themselves,” adding that he felt the NSDR project was the perfect way to honor his father.
Pennartz celebrated what the Buddy Smith Home symbolizes to the city.
“We say aloud (through the Buddy Smith Home) to homeless veterans that we have not forgotten you, have not forgotten your dedication to this country.”