Questions about city homeless center UPDATE | Arkansas Blog

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Questions about city homeless center UPDATE

Posted By on Tue, Jun 28, 2011 at 9:57 AM

An advocate for the homeless sends along comments and questions about Mayor Mark Stodola's latest idea for providing a long-delayed day center for the homeless. He'd get space in the Union Rescue Mission facility on Confederate Boulevard.

Question No. 1: Is it merely coincidental that this is a trudge of many miles from the downtown business district from which city officials have long wanted to remove the homeless?

The letter, from someone who didn't want to be identified but whose understanding of most of the issues mirrors my own, follows:

UPDATE: After the letter, read Mayor Mark Stodola's response.

The jury is out — will be out for a long time — on whether this Day Resource Center will be better than nothing… better than the present situation… equal to what is called for in the 10-year plan of 2006. A key element will be transportation… an area where the city has been deficient regarding the homeless so far.

There is a major question about location — 3000 Confederate Blvd. — and another about the process. Both lead from Stodola’s, the Chamber of Commerce’s and the business community’s strong desires for years to move the homeless from the central business district.

First on the process. Three or so years ago when the city sought to open a Day Resource Center for the Homeless…[a year or more past the date called for in the 10-Yr Plan] the CLR decided they could not do it on their own — and called for a RFP [Request for Proposals], basically a competitive bidding process, from existing providers. There were two bidders — Union Rescue Mission/ 3000 Confederate Blvd and River City Ministries/ NLR. Union Rescue finished 2nd in both quality and price.

River City Ministries has done a good job, despite a location more than a mile from the central locus of the homeless, centered on Markham and Broadway, due to Salv. Army [1111 W Markham, near the Train Station and Does] and Stewpot at 1st Presbyterian.[8th and Scott]

This time no competitive process, no RFP. Why? One reason may be that Salvation Army might have bid… and won… keeping the homeless in the CBD [ downtown where Big Business, including the Dem Gaz doesn’t want scruffy folks]

Stodola in his statement Friday said, while the center wouldn’t be in the city’s “downtown core” where many homeless people tend to be, he has a proposed solution.“This location is on a public transit bus line [a route that runs from downtown to there only six times a day] and it is envisioned that van pick-up of the homeless will be offered daily to the location,” he wrote in the memorandum. “Additionally, this location is in close proximity to other comparable service providers including Our House Shelter, Harmony Health Clinic and the SOAR homeless outreach offices, all located within a mile of this location.”

This last sentence demonstrates an amazing incompetence about the needs of the homeless and the provision of services today and how to coordinate them. Our House and Harmony Health service a very, very small percentage of the homeless. SOAR outreach is pledged not to provide any services to the homeless from the Roosevelt and Main location except over the phone.

The more important distance is from Salvation Army to 3000 Confederate Blvd. — 3.5 miles. That's not walking distance for the homeless. Or from 8th and Scott. Or from the homeless camps or shelters.

Another example of evading the truth is "it is envisioned that van pick-up of the homeless will be offered daily to the location.” Note the passive voice. Note the lack of specificity about who will provide. The record of the city in transporting homeless to the NLR Day Resource Center has fallen from poor to nonexistent.

This Day Resource Center location decision smacks of private interests over public interest again, of hidden agendas calling the shots, of the Chamber of Commerce (who opposed the better location on East 9th east of I-30) getting their way yet again

This proposal may work. But given the record to date of the CLR in treating compassionately the homeless and living up to the goal of the 2006 10-year plan the probabilities are not good. A recent TV program on AETN closed with the moderator asking the panel of homeless providers — "did LR deserve the rating of Most Heartless City in America about the Homeless of a few years ago?" The co-chair of the Homeless Coalition said, "probably not #1…. But in the top 10."

RESPONSE FROM MARK STODOLA

Printing anonymous letters is a new one, but let me respond to some of the conclusions and innuendos contained in the letter. You know, there is always a cynic in every crowd whenever someone tries to move the ball forward on an important issue such as this.

I am not sure the reporter’s comment, attributable to me, that the Day Resource Center “is not in the downtown core” is quite accurate. I did comment that I would have preferred the site on E. 9th street because it is closer to the downtown core; however that location also would necessitate a transportation component so from that standpoint the location distance is about the same. The 9th St. site which would require rezoning as both a DRC and as a temporary shelter has some supporters and has several groups against it including both residents and businesses along the route. The prolonged debate and separate consideration by the Commission would further complicate the process and may not achieve the intended recommendation of approval. Such is not necessary at the URM.

BTW, the Chamber of Commerce is NOT one of the groups against the 9th St site and have offered no opinion on that location. Likewise, they have never expressed to me a desire to move the homeless out of the downtown core. They have not weighed in on this issue at all. However, I have heard directly from several residents and small businesses in the downtown area complaining about aggressive panhandling and offering concern over seeing the homeless sleeping on benches and on sidewalks.

As for the walking homeless and the distance issue, 120 homeless people stay at the URM nightly which is about 50 steps away from the DRC. The Salvation Army, who I have talked with, is out of space in their current facilities and could in no way accommodate a DRC in their location at 1111 W. Markham about a mile from downtown. Their maximum capacity is 63 people, about half of what the URM accommodates. The fact that other homeless services and providers are located within a few blocks of the URM lends credence to the fact that this location is accessible and will work, particularly with van transportation pick up on a daily basis.

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