The Bentonville homeless shelter seemed empty last week, but some bunk beds in the men's bunk room were made with sheets and brown bed covers. In the women's section, a pair of shoes was left waiting under a locker, and a suitcase had been slipped under a bed.
Capt. Joshua Robinett, commander of the Salvation Army's Northwest Arkansas operations, explained the Bentonville shelter housed about 20 men, five women and even a family the night before.
By the numbers
January to December 2016
24,271 — nights of shelter
93,590 — meals served
3,620 — additional services cases (electricity, prescriptions, vouchers, etc.)
22 — addiction recovery program graduates
2,113 — recipients of Angel Tree gifts
Information: (479) 879-1353
Ways to get involved
Power washer, stocked food pantry, transportation vehicle, children’s playground for Bentonville shelter, new day room furniture for shelters, industrial freezer
Thrift store helpers, shelter meal service, Red Kettle ringing, host a food drive
Where: 3305 S.W. I St.
When: Sept. 6, Oct. 18
Where: 219 W. 15th St.
When: Sept. 13, Oct. 11, Nov. 8
Information: (479) 879-1353
"During this day (the third day of the new school year), the kids are in school," explained Ashley Robinett, who shares the commander duties with her husband. "The parents are out looking for jobs. We can help with them referrals and classes."
The Robinetts have returned to Northwest Arkansas from Hot Springs, where they served with the Salvation Army for two years as corps officers. They served as the Fayetteville corps (church) officers from 2012 to 2015.
The Salvation Army officials have planned a series of open houses at the Bentonville and Fayetteville shelters. "We want to raise the awareness of homeless in the community," Ashley Robinett said, "and help people really understand and be knowledgeable about the homeless. All they see is a few homeless people standing on the street corners.
"We want them to be especially aware of families -- there's currently a family living in the Fayetteville shelter with three kids. They've been there for a few weeks."
"We want to raise awareness of what we're facing in Northwest Arkansas," Joshua Robinett said. "We can help them with issues, and we do that with respect for the individuals and families.
"The goal is not just a safe place for them to stay, but a place for them to find hope," he continued. "We are lifting people up, so they can feel better about themselves. We want the culture of the people to be better."
The Robinetts and shelter manager Daniel Camarillo led visitors on a tour of the Bentonville shelter last week -- from the commercial kitchen, to the 26-bed men's shelter, to the 20-bed women's bunk room, to the family rooms, lounge areas and laundry facilities. "Can you imagine how difficult it would be to get a job without clean clothes," Joshua Robinett asked.
Volunteers and staff, with some help from residents, serve two hot meals from the shelter's kitchen for residents and nonresidents in need, Camarillo said. Shelter residents may check out with sack lunches as they start their days in search of assistance, housing, employment or other needs.
And the capacity for housing expands with cots placed everywhere when the weather turns dangerously cold. "We don't turn anyone away," Camarillo said.
One of the three family rooms at the Bentonville shelter was centered with a nice set of bedroom furniture, the bed covered with a bright green, polka dot comforter. A baby bed, bunk beds, lamps, rocking chair, closet and bathroom completed the suite. Another room held an additional bunk bed.
"We don't want the family room to be cold and hard," Joshua Robinett said. "Groups have 'adopted' rooms, providing home-like furniture."
Camarillo said the shelter sees mostly families with single mothers, although sometimes it's a single father or both parents.
The women's and the men's areas at the shelter are separated and locked, but in the case of a more traditional two-parent family, the father may join them in a family room. "We want to keep families connected," Joshua Robinett said.
Both the men's and the women's sections of the shelter offer lounge areas. "Even those who are homeless deserve something for entertainment," Joshua Robinett said, pointing out televisions, books and outdoors, basketball courts and smoking areas.
The women's and children's lounge includes a desk and table. "Because we do have kiddos coming home here to do their homework," Ashley Robinett, a mother herself, pointed out.
Joshua Robinett admitted that the couches in the men's lounge were dingy and that the women's lounge lacked toys. "I think (the couches) are original to the shelter, which opened 20 years ago. We are hoping for donations of new ones," he said.
"And a big wish for for the children's area is an outdoor playground," Ashley Robinett added.
Local volunteer groups, businesses and Eagle Scouts are working to update the interior of the shelter by putting bright paint on the walls, Camarillo said.
And, especially in Bentonville, where big boxes of bananas filled a prep table in the kitchen, shelter staff rarely has to venture out to purchase food. "Even those with a vague idea of what we do get behind us," Joshua Robinett said.
Nonresidents also are welcome to eat meals at the shelter, as well as use shower facilities and laundry, Camarillo said. They can get a ride to a Sunday worship service at the Rogers Salvation Army location or join Bible study here on Saturday.
The Salvation Army also offers substance abuse rehabilitation programs, and caseworkers are available for other resources.
"And we are hoping for folks to come alongside us, to give some donations," Joshua Robinett said.
Four area thrift stores, the Red Kettle campaign at Christmas and other donations and grants support the shelters and meal services in the Northwest Arkansas area.
TOE THE MARK
The Salvation Army sets strict rules for its residents.
The limit of a stay is 10 business days -- or two weeks -- within a 90-day period. Curfew is 9 p.m., with lights out at 10 p.m.
"We don't want this to become a home," Joshua Robinett said. "We are here to help, but at the same time encourage them to take the steps to help themselves. ... But each case is handled differently."
For example, if a resident's job keeps him working later than the curfew, shelter staff simply verify it with the employer, Camarillo said.
"And once somebody finds work, they might have to stay longer to save up money for a home," he continued. "A couple of paychecks aren't enough to get a place. They might stay 2 1/2 months. That's really beneficial to them. It's not a big deal to us, but it makes a big difference to them."
The Salvation Army requires identification and proof of legal child custody before it will provide even temporary housing. Those are actually easy to obtain if the prospective resident or children have received service elsewhere, and Helping Hands in Bentonville can help access such documents.
"We do ID checks," Camarillo said. "We don't allow sex offenders. Unfortunately, our society is not cut and dried these days. We have to be safe for those we are serving and safe for ourselves. The others will have to get help somewhere else."
"We know what we're good at, and we provide that," Robinett said. "We couldn't do other services as well."
Also, every resident takes a breathalyzer test each time he enters the building, Joshua Robinett said. "The Fayetteville shelter offers a substance abuse rehabilitation program and caseworkers for other needs.
"But some don't want that," Camarillo noted.
"And that's OK," Robinett said. "We are here to serve the needs they will let us."
When a resident checks in, he is assigned a bed, given sheets and a blanket. "We do not allow personal pillows, blankets or towels. We provide those," as well as laundry detergent and fabric softener.
Residents also must bathe and wash their clothes. With shelter laundry done by staff in the day time, and residents running their personal laundry in the evenings, the three sets of washing machines and dryers are in nearly constant use, Camarillo said.
"And everyone who stays, they clean up after themselves," Joshua Robinett said.
NAN Our Town on 08/24/2017
Print Headline: A place to find hope