Organizations Seek to Help Area Homeless

By Kimberely Blackburn
Delta Digital News Service

JONESBORO – With many of the Delta’s residents living without a home, area organizations assist in putting lives back together.

After being homeless for seven years, Travis Howard said he doesn’t like living on the streets. He said his parents raised him to live better than he currently does.

“My momma told me one time: ‘Before I die, I want to see you get better,'” Howard said. “(She said) I know it’s in you.”

The grandfather of three boys began coming to Jonesboro’s Helping Underserved Belong after its opening. The HUB assisted Howard in getting his birth certificate and insurance to help him find his way back from living on the streets.

Howard’s journey to homelessness began after he worked for many years in various jobs, including an assistant manager position. He said he attended two years of college and still likes to try and keep his mind sharp. He goes to the public library every day, reading newspapers.

Untreated physical and mental problems caused his downward spiral. He said he began drinking alcohol at the age of 13, but no one tried to get him into an alcohol-treatment program until he came to the HUB. Howard said he doesn’t blame others for his situation, he knows he can do better … but he needs help. Many, he said, don’t want to help, they just want to lock him up.

Providing Help

Kimberly Bartee, director of the HUB, said she hears stories similar to Howard’s too often. Many need help after a single event caused their lives to spiral out of control. She said after the HUB volunteers grow to know their guests as people, they begin to understand what needs to be done to truly help.

“They may have gone through drug rehab, but that was yesterday,” she said. “Who is that person today? Who do we want that person to be? Who does that person want to be?”

After being concerned with the homeless situation in Jonesboro, Mayor Harold Perrin created a task force in 2016 to determine how best to help. He said they created Jonesboro’s HUB after visiting a similar facility in Memphis. Perrin said while he plans to take the program further and build a shelter, more can be done now.

Hoping to help area panhandlers, Perrin said he authorized city employees to assist the homeless in finding work within the city organization. Finding a way to put them back into society will help them to help themselves, he said.

Director of Community Involvement Tiffny Calloway said Jonesboro receives Community Development Block Grant Funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. This grant provides funding to aid in issues low-to-moderate income families face in their daily lives. She said the city allocated part of the funding to help Jonesboro’s homeless. These funds help fund the HUB and provide transportation and other basic services.

Jonesboro also received the Continuum of Care grant to provide housing and utility assistance to eight individuals for a year. Calloway said the grant will pay 100 percent of the utilities for the first few months, 75 percent for the next few months and gradually decrease to help the recipients get on their feet and save money.

A Place to Stay

The HUB works with Mission Outreach in Paragould to provide emergency shelter for Jonesboro’s homeless. Program director Cheri Peters said they assist Northeast Arkansas and parts of Missouri in providing shelter for those who need it. The facility holds 58 individuals and they house men, women and families in separate dorms.

The philosophy of Mission Outreach seems similar to the HUB’s as they both seek to determine what each individual needs, and works with those in the community to provide services. Mission Outreach works with Families Inc. to provide counseling services and local government offices to find needed identification documents.

Peters said after an individual obtains an identification card, they must find employment within two weeks. Mission Outreach provides transportation to and from their work and each one must save 75 percent of their wages.

While not an emergency shelter, Jacob’s Place in Searcy assists area women and families needing help getting back on their feet. Melanie Kiihnl, program director, said Searcy Ministerial Alliance established the shelter after a Searcy High School student did a study on the homeless situation in the area. The 2007 study found 80 homeless families in White County.

Jacob’s Place houses up to 15 individuals and those seeking shelter must submit to a criminal background check and drug screen. Kiihnl said they try to work with other area programs to assist when an individual fails either test. She said they often work with Wilbur D. Mills drug-treatment facility when one fails a drug screen.

Those staying in Jacob’s Place must obtain a job and save 40 percent of their wages.

Both Mission Outreach and Jacob’s Place enforce strict rules and regulations upon those staying at their shelters. All must do chores and be inside the facility by curfew. Mission Outreach’s doors lock at 9 p.m., and Jacob’s Place residents must be back by 10 p.m. Peters said the rules help to maintain order and maintain relationships with other families living near the facility.

While Jonesboro officials currently search for a place to establish a homeless shelter, Perrin said he believes the citizens of Jonesboro will take care of the needs of their own.

Howard said he wished a shelter existed in Jonesboro. He said it’s difficult to get and keep employment when one cannot keep up with personal hygiene. He often attempts to clean up in area hospital bathrooms, but can only take what he calls “bird baths.”

Until the city completes a shelter, Bartee said HUB volunteers will continue to help those in need, whatever their situation.

“To the druggie on the street who has a habit that they cannot beat, we’ve got resources for you,” she said. “To the person who just lost their house in a fire, we’ve got resources for you. To the grandparent who needs custody of their grandchildren or whatever they should need, we’ve got resources for you.”

Listen to Howard’s full interview


Editor’s Note: Featured photo by Jason Snyder [CC BY-SA 2.0]