Last year senior Quinn Childress decided to plan a Thanksgiving Day lunch so that homeless people in his community could feel like part of a family again, something they sometimes do not have, he said. The experience inspired him to learn more about the problem of homelessness by talking to the people affected by it and those who work at community assistance centers like the 7Hills Homeless Center.
Now Childress is starting an independent activist group to help bring food, jobs, housing, security and care to homeless people in Northwest Arkansas, a group he thinks does not receive enough attention.
Childress planned the Walk a Mile in My Shoes march April 8 to raise awareness about the amount of homeless people in Northwest Arkansas and to show that his generation is willing to take action to combat the problem, he said.
Childress thinks that millennials have the technology necessary to bring attention to the problem and the passion to step up and help people in a way that the previous generations have not, he said.
Fayetteville residents and volunteers from the 7Hills Homeless Center marched to raise awareness for the problem of homelessness in Northwest Arkansas. The approximately 160 participants walked from the 7Hills Homeless Center on School Avenue to the Fayetteville Historic Square with a police escort.
7Hills is an organization that helps homeless people meet their basic needs and make a plan to support themselves again, according to the center's website.
Childress is working with Fayetteville resident Alvin Davis to develop a plan called Community Project X to address the stability issues that homeless people often suffer, such as unemployment and high costs of housing, Childress said.
Davis is an engineer and has been homeless in Fayetteville for three years, he said. Many people who have professional training are homeless because unfortunate circumstances can strike anyone, Davis said.
The project involves a committee of volunteers that will work together and plan ways to address the concerns of mental health issues, unemployment and housing among the homeless population. The first meeting will be in May but the date is not set yet, Childress said.
Jobs would help homeless people start to rebuild their lives, even if they are simple menial tasks, Davis said.
Davis thinks Fayetteville city officials have plenty of these jobs that others do not want to do, he said. He thinks that homeless workers could do these jobs if officials would provide daily transportation to the work site.
Normally employers will turn down people who list their address or phone number as a homeless shelter, so it is very difficult for homeless people to get a job and make money to support themselves and buy medicines that social programs will not cover, Davis said.
The next major priority is housing homeless people, which is incredibly difficult because student demand increases the price of every apartment in town, Davis said.
Davis thinks the government should initially pay a portion of a homeless tenant’s rent until they can get back on their feet and pay the full cost themselves. Fayetteville officials should also put homeless people to work renovating vacant homes around Fayetteville to house them, he said.
Homeless people simply need help reintegrating into the community, Davis said.
“Homeless people are strong, resourceful and respectful of others,” Davis said.
Fayetteville Mayor Lioneld Jordan presented Childress with a signed proclamation that the Fayetteville City Council will continue to support programs combatting homelessness in Northwest Arkansas.
Last year the council members gave the 7Hills shelter $150,000 to help them stay open, Jordan said. The council members also spent $300,000 last year on projects to combat homelessness in Fayetteville.
Of that $300,000 city officials gave $47,000 to 7Hills for the repair and upkeep of their Walker Family Residential Community in 2017, said Paul Becker, financial director for Fayetteville.
The Walker Family Residential Community provides housing for families and individuals while they save money to pay for their own housing, according to the 7Hills website.
In his 2018 budget Jordan designated $160,000 annually for 7Hills, he said.
Of this, $103,000 will go toward offsetting their operating costs and $57,000 will go toward further renovations to the Walker Family Residential Community such as installing a new air conditioning system, Becker said.
The building housing the Walker Family Residential Community is very old and has developed numerous problems including the faulty air conditioning units, said 7Hills CEO Jessica Andrews.
Angela Bradford, board chairwoman of Northwest Arkansas Continuum of Care, thinks city officials are doing everything they can to cut down on homelessness, she said. Bradford participated in the march Sunday.
Continuum of Care is a federal organization that works with community housing providers and homeless shelters to reduce homelessness, according to their website.
The Continuum of Care board recently received $120,000 from the state government that must be spent by July, and the members plan to use the money to house 30-40 families and help them pay their rent until they can pay it themselves, Bradford said.
Bradford thinks that if Northwest Arkansas is consistently ranked as one of the best places to live by U.S. News and World Report that it is only true if it’s the case for all people, Bradford said.
Gentry resident Brian Harris volunteered with 7Hill to work at this event because one of his friends let him know the march was happening, he said.
Harris was compelled to help the shelter because no one should have to live on the street, especially in cold weather, he said. He thinks the march was very successful in making people aware of the problem of homelessness.