Homelessness Grows in the Delta

By Colby Sigears
Delta Digital News Service

JONESBORO — Poverty and homelessness impact the Delta area, keeping people under the poverty line.

Hillary Starnes, an employee of the Jonesboro Grant Department, said approximately 1,800 homeless people live within Craighead County.

“We’re getting a homeless task force to help be resources for the people in the community to get them back on their feet,” Starnes said.

A preliminary meeting of the task force in mid-September discussed potential resources for the homeless. Limited resources contribute to homelessness in the area because people do not have jobs; some do not have a driver’s license. Starnes said the task force will help once they get a homeless shelter built; that way it will keep the homeless off the streets.

Todd Stovall, chief of police in Paragould, said the city does not have a lot of homelessness because of the community effort such as churches helping with the homeless with free meals.

“The mission outreach keeps a lot of people off our streets and other people in the community provide resources for the homeless,” Stovall said.

Lack of affordable housing in Arkansas for people with low incomes and secondary causes such as physical illness, substance abuse, lack of incentive to work, poor work ethic and lack of appropriate education also contribute to the homeless problem in the Delta.

Lisa Williard, director at Mississippi County Union Mission in Blytheville photo by Colby Sigears

Lisa Willard, director of the Mississippi County Union Mission, said it’s a broken system. People with mental illness get left behind because people don’t want to deal with them anymore, e.g. women being dependent and leaving their husbands without any resources or even men with children but no jobs.

“We get people their benefits when they check in such as Medicaid benefits, food stamps and driver’s license,” Willard said. “If they stay here, they must have a job and half their checks go to their savings. We provide other side jobs in the community to make extra money.”

MCUM provides a food pantry and clothing for people at the shelter, as well as help with people having trouble with water and light bills. Willard noted MCUM gives out food boxes to Mississippi County residents at 1 p.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. The food box program runs under the income-based guidelines of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

A lot of homelessness occurs in the Jonesboro area because it is the center for most of the Delta. There are 600 known within the city. Places such as The HUB and Salvation Army provide resources in the community. Also, the food bank is the biggest in the area and sends help to places such as Mississippi County Union Mission.

“Volunteering in the community and help from government resources and getting jobs for people will help lower homelessness in the area,” Willard said.