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Flexible shelter is the top recommendation for addressing homelessness in Little Rock, according to a report presented Tuesday to a committee of officials and service providers.

The report, titled "Finding the Gaps: A Look at the Resources for Little Rock's Chronically Homeless," was done by five students at the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service during the 2016-17 school year in partnership with Jericho Way Center, a day resource center for the homeless.

It was presented publicly for the first time when a committee on a city initiative to reduce street homelessness in downtown Little Rock met Tuesday morning.

Researchers interviewed homeless people who come to Jericho Way for services, and they interviewed the center's staff. They also surveyed and interviewed local service providers, including people who run shelters, feed the homeless and provide other resources.

"We spent a full year diving into homelessness and figuring out the issues of it, and the most important one, I would say, that we found was a flexible shelter," said Ross Owyoung, one of the report's authors. "The stories that we heard from those individuals, I would say, were eye-opening."

The report recommends that Little Rock conduct more research on the barriers to opening and maintaining a shelter that is always open and free to people with disabilities, mental health issues and substance abuse problems.

The report said that 46 percent of homeless individuals interviewed by researchers identified time restrictions at overnight shelters as their main concern. Shelters with time restrictions don't accommodate people who work nights, Owyoung said.

"The most vulnerable populations work night jobs that most people don't want to work," he said. "Most of the shelters in Little Rock have time restrictions. ... Most of [the homeless people interviewed] said, 'We get off at a certain time. The shelters close at this certain time. We're stuck on the streets.'"

Some Little Rock shelters, including the Little Rock Compassion Center, require that people who stay overnight check in by a certain time, but they will allow late-night guests if they provide a work schedule or a note from an employer.

The Compassion Center, which houses about 225 men and up to 30 women and children each night, and the Salvation Army's shelter in Little Rock, which shelters about 45 women and children each night, require those who stay overnight to be sober.

"[With] that kind of numbers, you have to have some type of rules," said William Holloway, who runs the Compassion Center.

More Little Rock service providers, including From His Throne Ministries and The Shack, open their doors in the winter when the temperature drops below a certain level. Other providers, including ABBA House and Union Rescue Mission, serve and house target populations, such as women who have experienced domestic violence.

The report's other recommendations are that providers give emotional support to participants, offer wraparound services at a flexible shelter that include substance abuse treatment, and facilitate dialogue among different providers.

Little Rock officials announced late last year an effort to reduce street homelessness by 25 percent in downtown and northeast Little Rock. The target area was expanded this year to include areas from the River Market District to the state Capitol and south to Roosevelt Road.

The city is collaborating with the Institute of Global Homelessness, which has partnered with eight "vanguard cities" to provide support with the goal of ending street homelessness in 150 cities worldwide by 2030.

Metro on 03/06/2019

Print Headline: Shelters' flexibility suggested in report

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