In 2006 Little Rock was named the 3rd worst city in America for treatment of homeless people. This was largely due to the development around the Clinton Presidential Center, in particular forcefully evicting people living in the old train depot that would later be converted into the Clinton School. Fast forward a little more than a decade later and little has changed regarding the inhumane treatments of homeless folks.
We have been closely following the ongoing battle with the city of Little Rock regarding evictions of homeless camps. It is a frustrating series of events full of lies from the City Manager. Here is a recap.
Earlier this year the city began evicting individuals in homeless camps throughout the city. It appeared that city officials were working to crack down on homeless camps and were going out of their way to uncover and clean up the camps. The evictions were happening even when not requested by the property owner and were often given little to no notice to clear out.
On February 28th Aaron Reddin of The Van, which is a very important homeless outreach program in the city, reached out to the city about the evictions. He was promised by the city manager’s office that evictions would only happen going forward if it was requested by the property owner, that they would be given 7 days to vacate the property, and that The Van would be notified about the pending eviction.
Within days of making that promise the city began again with rolling evictions. The Van’s contact information was added to the signs and the camps were given seven days to disband, but still often happening without property owners complaining. According to Reddin there have been at least 14 camp evictions this year alone totaling over 40 people displaced.
Why does all this matter? Homeless individuals flock to Little Rock as the largest city in the state from all over the state and even the surrounding region. It happens because, thanks to the larger population, there are opportunities to be fed by various charity groups, a community of other homeless folks, and the possibility to find shelter in bad weather.
In the survey this year The Van found over 500 individuals living unsheltered around the metro. That means these are people who spend their day outside in the elements. Typically the homeless camps, often tucked away just out of sight in the various wooded areas around town, are where most of these people live daily.
Part of this number has to do with the shelters in Little Rock. Speaking with Reddin and other people who understand the situation, many of the shelters are not open all the time and more often not charge people to stay in them. While the cost to stay in the shelter is fairly low, these shelters are also often receiving government subsidies and enjoy a non-profit status. The money collected from homeless staying in the shelters is usually in cash and is very often not reported. This creates a unique situation where many of those staying in a shelter are scammed and people are profiting off of the struggle many of our citizens have to live.
The lack of city resources to help the homeless, including lack of city run shelters, is bad enough. The very active role the city takes in trying to make life even harder on these individuals is another thing. Looking at surrounding cities, including neighboring North Little Rock, and the level of compassion they take for those disadvantaged makes it even worse. Most other cities in Arkansas of any size with a homeless population have taken steps to work with the local population to provide safety, security, and a general well being. Something all cities should be focused on, not just for citizens who happen to have a permanent home.
I would encourage all of you to reach out to the offices of Mayor Stodola, who has done practically nothing toward the matter, and city manager Bruce Moore, who has played an active role in making the lives of homeless harder. Even better, come election time, let’s vote people in who give a damn about the citizens of Little Rock, all of them.