Homeless in Carroll County: Local officials see problem, but resources are scarce

Tuesday, July 24, 2018
Volunteer Clarissa Vennerbeck serves up bowls of hot soup for free to visitors of A Cup of Love Ministry Friday afternoon. Feeding 400 to 700 people a week, A Cup of Love is one of the few resources for Carroll County’s homeless population.
Photo by Tavi Ellis/Carroll County News

Ken Winston lives out of his car. He shaves in the car every morning and tries to keep clean, but he said it’s difficult. During the summer, it’s hot at night. When Winston can’t shower, the heat and sweat make him itchy, he said.

“We have heat exhaustion from sleeping in the car all night,” Winston said.

A local problem

Winston has often worked in exchange for a place to live, but he can’t do manual labor anymore because he has pain in his stomach, which he thinks stems from pancreatic problems. Winston needs rest from everything he’s been through, he said. On top of this, he and his partner both have mental health problems.

“I’ve been dealing with depression and anxiety since I was a little boy,” Winston said.

He said being homeless makes his mental health problems worse. He came to Eureka Springs in December because he asked God where to go, and Winston said he felt called to come here. About two months into living here, his car developed an oil leak. He can’t drive anywhere without buying more oil to put in the car, he said. But he volunteers at A Cup of Love Ministry.

“That’s how I keep myself sane,” Winston said.

In Eureka Springs, Chuck and Pattie Jarrett, who founded and run A Cup of Love Ministry, said they think homelessness stems from a lack of jobs in the winter. People come to Eureka Springs for jobs, but they don’t know the jobs are seasonal, and they get stuck, Chuck said.

“I wish they wouldn’t advertise that there’s jobs here,” Chuck said.

Pattie said she didn’t realize until she and Chuck started their ministry how many homeless people are in the area. Chuck said he estimates there are about 80 homeless people in Eureka Springs, and they feed about 400 to 700 people a week, going through about 4,000 pounds of food each week.

“We do feed a lot of homeless people, but you don’t have to be homeless to come here,” Chuck said.

The couple wishes city or county governments would offer more services, but they don’t think the officials know that homelessness is an issue in the area, they said. There are no homelessness shelters in Carroll County.

“I think they are really just now realizing there’s a problem,” Chuck said.

Families in need

In the 2016-17 school year, Eureka Springs reported having 27 homeless children in the district, while Berryville and Green Forest reported having even more homeless children in their districts at 89 and 48, respectively, according to the Arkansas State Department of Education.

For the 2017-18 school year, Eureka Springs had 15 homeless children in its district, Eureka Springs Superintendent Bryan Pruitt said. If families can’t afford educational supplies or services, the school generally pays for them. In the district, 62 percent of the students have free or reduced lunches. Most of the Eureka Springs students who are homeless are living in a house with their family and another family. The federal government defines homelessness as sharing houses with multiple families, living in shelters, living in temporary housing like motels, hotels and camping grounds, and living in a location that is not typically used for sleeping, according to the National Center for Homeless Education.

For the 2017-18 school year, Berryville schools had 198 homeless children, making up 10 percent of the student population, Berryville Superintendent Owen Powell said.

“It puts a huge burden on a kid getting to their full potential,” Powell said.

Powell said if students are homeless then they also are likely not getting all their meals or proper nutrition. These students are absent often. They also might have low self-esteem or anger problems. Powell said all these factors can lead to behavioral problems and set the students, who probably came into school further behind wealthier students, back.

About 72 percent of Berryville’s students have free or reduced lunch, basically meaning that these students are living in poverty, Powell said. He said that roughly 80 percent of the district would likely qualify for free or reduced lunch, but it’s difficult to get older kids signed up for the program, cutting down on the portion of students who are actually signed up for the lunches.

Green Forest Superintendent Matt Summers said the district purchases educational tools for students whose families can’t afford it. It’s hard for students to concentrate on school, Summers said, when they’re concerned about food or their homes.

Green Forest has 82 percent of its students enrolled in the free or reduced lunch program, Summers said.

Homeless or transient?

In nearby Washington and Benton counties, University of Arkansas professor Kevin Fitzpatrick conducted his own survey in 2017, showing there were 2,951 homeless people in those counties. According to the survey, 40 percent of the homeless in Washington and Benton counties suffer from substance abuse problems, while 63 percent report a mental health problem.

Homeless people often qualify for federal assistance because of their low or nonexistent incomes, but to qualify, they have to have addresses, and they often do not, Fitzpatrick said.

Eureka Springs Police Chief Thomas Achord sees the homelessness in Eureka Springs as similar to homelessness in Fayetteville. He said he thinks the homeless people in the two areas are more transient than homeless and instructs his officers to refer to them as transients in reports.

“I’m all for trying to get these folks help, but I think a lot of them don’t really want the help,” Achord said. “I think they’re just there to live that lifestyle, which more power to them. You know, if I was 25 and had the mind to go backpack across Europe, I think I’d probably go do it, and I think they’re doing that here or some of them, some of them. Again, I don’t want to put everybody in the same profile, mold, because they’re different. I think some folks generally need some shelter, need some help.”

Green Forest Police Chief John Bailey agreed that homeless people in the area are more transient than homeless. In his experience, people are generally trying to get to their families.

“If it is people seeking jobs, they’ve come to the right place because Tyson’s always hiring,” Bailey said.

Berryville Mayor Tim McKinney said most of the homeless people in the city are generally in a temporary situation. Berryville Police Chief Robert Bartos thinks most of the homeless people in the city are just passing through, but he does interact with a handful of people who are chronically homeless, and he said a few of them seem to have mental health problems.

“Most of the homeless people I hear about are homeless because of some situation in their life that was out of their control,” McKinney said.

A housing crisis

In Eureka Springs, the city has an ordinance that doesn’t allow people to sleep in public places. Green Forest and Berryville do not have such ordinances.

“And I have no idea why they’re homeless because they have work,” Eureka Springs Mayor Butch Berry said.

Eureka Springs certainly does not have enough affordable housing, Berry said. He lauded Echo Village, an effort to create affordable housing in the community, as part of the solution to the problem. Volunteers are still working on completing the village, which will eventually include about 26 homes, some of which will have a monthly rent between $400 and $500. Some of the homes will be transitional, while some of them will be more permanent.

Berry does not think the city of Eureka Springs is in a position to help homeless people.

“Eureka is a financially poor city,” Berry said.

Green Forest Mayor Charlie Reece said that his city also has a housing problem.

“There is a housing crisis here,” Reece said.

He’s working with developers to try to build apartments and tiny houses in Green Forest in an effort to bring more affordable housing to the city, he said.

Reece said that although it’s not obvious that people are homeless in Green Forest, he thinks it is a problem.

“It’s there,” Reece said. “It’s not visible to the untrained eye.”

While there aren’t any city initiatives to help homeless people, McKinney said he would be willing to work with a nonprofit to try to help.

“You know, I just don’t see it to be enough of a problem for the city to do a major undertaking or project of any kind for right now, but we’d certainly be willing to assist somebody that was looking to provide help to those types of people,” McKinney said.

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