Mar 26, 2024 - News

Organizations ramp up homelessness services in Northwest Arkansas

photo of beds inside homeless shelter

A room at the 7Hills emergency shelter has four beds. Photo: Alex Golden/Axios

Northwest Arkansas has a new emergency overnight shelter for people experiencing homelessness, the latest move by NWA organizations trying to help unhoused residents find permanent homes.

Why it matters: People who are constantly searching for a place to sleep and their next meal often can't think past those immediate needs.

7Hills Homeless Center's new shelter in Fayetteville will provide two free meals a day, helping occupants find capacity to tackle things like employment and permanent housing, shelter director Joe Coultas told Axios.

The new facility has 16 beds, with plans to expand to 64. 7Hills has long provided homelessness services at its day center, which regularly sees 120-150 people, Coultas said.

By the numbers: As of January 2023, an estimated 436 people were homeless in NWA, compared to 343 in March 2022, according to NWA Continuum of Care.

State of play: Nonprofits have stepped up services to combat homelessness, with plans to add even more.

New Beginnings, a nonprofit that offers transitional housing for chronically homeless people, debuted in 2021. So far, nine of the 38 people who have utilized one of its 20 transitional, 100-square-foot cabins have moved on into stable, permanent housing — two the first year and seven the next.

  • The organization expects that number to grow in its third year, director Solomon Burchfield told Axios. Four residents died, while a couple had to serve long jail sentences.
  • New Beginnings recently purchased eight duplex units, where it plans to offer "extremely affordable" permanent housing to the chronically homeless. It's also working to add a medical respite care program that can treat four people at a time who have been discharged from the hospital with nowhere to go.

The Salvation Army also recently expanded its Fayetteville shelter.

The big picture: Rising homelessness can be attributed to rising rent prices, coupled with lagging wages, Burchfield said. NWA has little vacant housing, meaning landlords usually have their pick from several applicants and often won't rent to people with criminal records or who are using a housing voucher to help pay their rent.

  • People experiencing homelessness in NWA commonly have mental illnesses and/or addictions. The region has also seen more people become homeless as rental-assistance programs and eviction moratoriums remaining from the COVID-19 pandemic ran out, Coultas said.
  • Some people experiencing homelessness in other regions have come to NWA because they've heard about the services and community, Coultas said.

Zoom out: Homelessness in the U.S. reached a record high in 2023, up 12% from 2022. It rose across all household types.

  • Arkansas had the 10th-lowest homelessness rate in the country in 2023, with 8.6 people experiencing homelessness per 10,000 people. But the percentage of homeless people who are unsheltered — as in, living outdoors — was sixth-highest at 51%.

What to watch: The Supreme Court will hear a case in April regarding whether cities can fine or arrest people for sleeping outside if shelter isn't available.

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