The Salvation Army takes decisive role as homeless seek shelter in Arkansas
By: Brad Rowland
In Northwest Arkansas, a unique challenge recently emerged for The Salvation Army. The University of Arkansas operates in Fayetteville, and the Army’s regional headquarters is nearby. A homeless camp on university property was effectively closed down in early August as a result of safety concerns and an overall land maintenance effort focusing on cleaning and trash removal.
Many people were displaced without a firm plan in place, leaving the homeless community scrambling in Fayetteville and the surrounding area. Quickly, The Salvation Army sprang into action, acting with other community partners, in conjunction with the university, to help those displaced find shelter and, eventually, permanent housing.
The Army, led by Captain Joshua Robinett, area commander, opened 50 additional beds at the Fayetteville and Bentonville shelters, with transportation provided to the Bentonville unit. Because the shelters were at their original capacity, a “cold weather” policy was implemented, allowing the facilities to expand their shelter space into areas not normally used as living quarters. This maximized the available space to provide the most possible assistance.
The Arkansas-Oklahoma Division was aided by the Alabama-Louisiana-Mississippi Division, which lent the use of a shower trailer usually designated for disaster services. This allowed those in the shelter keep up with personal hygiene.
Nearly 20 individuals from the camp arrived the first night. The population varies from day to day; the shelters are set up to accommodate people for six to nine months.
“After stepping out in faith, saying, ‘Somebody has to do something,’ God has continued to provide,” said Captain Robinett. “I think what we’re doing is very consistent with who we are as an organization and as a mission.”
The Salvation Army also participated in a week-long resource fair with other entities in the community, helping people secure permanent housing and giving them information and the opportunity to enroll in other programs. The U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs was among those on site.
Among other challenges was the Fayetteville Area Command’s use of its shelters, designed as a temporary facilities for emergency purposes, to extend services and combat the lack of accessible and/or affordable housing in the community.
As a result of the quick and thorough action, The Salvation Army enjoyed a strong response from the community as others took notice of its work.
“I think the community as a whole has really appreciated the leadership that the Army has taken in this,” said Captain Robinett. “The image of the Army is much stronger in Fayetteville and the surrounding area as a result of this, and the community is rallying around us to support our work.”