Homeless Housing Project Will Not Make Winter Deadline

A group of men and women gather at the 7Hills Homeless Center to get out of the rain Sept. 21, 2018.

A new housing community for homeless people in Fayetteville will not be opening its doors in late 2019 as originally planned.

The New Beginnings Bridge Housing Community is set to open in late summer of 2020, said Kevin Fitzpatrick, NWA Serve board vice president and UA sociology professor.

The community, which was originally slated to open in the fall of 2019, will be similar to other Bridge Housing communities across the United States and takes a “housing first” approach, according to the NWA Serve website. 

“With our original time schedule, we felt going into this it would get us to a place where we would have a majority of the work completed before winter,” Fitzpatrick said. “That was the timeline in our head, sometimes our head doesn’t match with reality. We got a good dose of reality.”

Construction plans have been submitted to the city and the review of them was completed last week, but a few changes must be addressed first, Fitzpatrick said.

“The process is slow, part of it has to do with the fact that it is a negotiation and a back and forth with architects first,” Fitzpatrick said. “All of the engineers, all of the people who are working on the project submit their drawings to the architect.”

Those plans are approved twice by the board before being submitted to the city, Fitzpatrick said.

One of the changes requires a letter from the Arkansas Department of Health regarding the drain that the community will be using for draining garbage grease, Fitzpatrick said.

The goal is to have all of that done in two weeks, Fitzpatrick said.

Another snag the board has encountered is an ordinance from the city that will accommodate up to $5,000 in fees when reworded and voted at the Nov. 5 city council meeting, Fitzpatrick said.

“Once that ordinance passes in order to have the fees waived, we will not be able to pull a permit for 32 days,” Fitzpatrick said.

The project will take six to nine months from construction to final inspection, Fitzpatrick said.

Board members are looking at hiring a director and a community engagement coordinator, who will oversee volunteer efforts and other service providers, Fitzpatrick said.

Serve NWA, an organization that serves underprivileged communities in Northwest Arkansas, bought the land for the project from the UofA in 2018.

The 4.69 acres of undeveloped land was sold to the Serve NWA for $72,571 by the UofA.

The area was cleaned up and cleared off before being sold, Mike Johnson, vice chancellor for Facilities Management.

The organization is aiming to improve the conditions of unsheltered homeless people living in Fayetteville, according to their webpage.

Renovations are also scheduled for the Salvation Army’s Fayetteville shelter, but the start date for construction is unknown.

Charles Thorpe has been housed for two months but stayed at the Salvation Army when the shelter renovations were originally supposed to take place, he said.

Thorpe thinks that bad attitudes between clients are an issue with the resources and that if action on those behaviors is taken there will be change and the new community will be successful, he said.

“If those behaviors can be curbed then they have a shot,” Thorpe said about the New Beginnings Bridge Housing Community.

A count conducted showed 529 people in Fayetteville were facing homelessness on Jan. 24, 2019, according to the Northwest Arkansas Continuum of Care’s point-in-time count graphic on their website.

The point-in-time count displays total numbers of sheltered and unsheltered people experiencing homelessness on a single night in January that the Department of Housing and Urban Development requires Continuums of Care to conduct, according to the HUD Exchange website.

Renovations to the Salvation Army’s Fayetteville shelter do not have a set completion date, said Blair Cook, public relations and volunteer coordinator.

“We are wanting to start as soon as possible, we are waiting on the city,” Cook said.

“We want to be done with it before it gets too cold, we do not want our cold shelter to be out of commission too long,” Cook said.

The renovations will more than double the sheltering capacity, expand the dining and kitchen area, add a computer lab for guests and increase the rehabilitation housing capacity from 21 to 25, Cook said.

Two family-style apartments will also be added, Cook said.

Clients will still be housed during the renovations, but the cold shelter will be affected since it is where part of the renovations will be taking place, Cook said.

Abbi Ross is a staff reporter for the Arkansas Traveler, where she has been a staff reporter since March 2019.

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