On a single day in January of this year, Arkansas recorded 2,459 homeless people in the state, a 3.9% increase from 2020.
The majority of that number, 859, were counted in the Little Rock/Central Arkansas area.
There were 343 counted in the Fayetteville/Northwest Arkansas area, 374 in Fort Smith, 69 in Southeast Arkansas and the "balance" of the state accounted for the remaining 814.
Little Rock's total is down from the 1,186 who were counted in 2020.
The numbers were logged as part of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's Point-in-Time count of the country's homeless population, with the results released Monday. This was the first full Point-in-Time count since the onset of the covid-19 pandemic in 2020.
The count is typically held every two years and has been conducted since 2007. Arkansas' total number is down 28% from its peak in 2012 of 4,214.
Arkansas' rise from 2020 coincided with an increase in the national homeless number, with about 582,000 people -- or about 18 of every 10,000 people in the United States -- counted as homeless. That number misses some people and does not include those staying with friends or family because they do not have a place of their own.
Arkansas' number means it has less than 10 people per 10,000 experiencing homelessness.
According to HUD, covid-19 and its economic impacts could have led to more significant increases in homelessness, but investments, partnerships and government agency outreach resulted in the marginal increase.
Of the 2,459 who were counted in Arkansas' five distinct Continuum-of-Care districts, 1,163 were counted as living in sheltered conditions, an increase from 1,093 in 2020.
As for unsheltered homeless people, that count rose by 23 from 1,273 to 1,296.
However, Little Rock's number of unsheltered homeless people dropped from 573 in 2020 to 496 in 2022.
Aaron Reddin, founder and directer of The Van, was "excited" to see that number go down. The organization specializes in helping those in the Little Rock area who are homeless in unsheltered conditions.
"A difference of 77 people, that's not overly noticeable," in Reddin's day-to-day work. "We're already having planning meetings now for another unsheltered count that will happen next month. ... Because of covid, that got skipped a year. So we'll actually get to see the unsheltered count year-over-year for once. I think that'll be very interesting to see."
Those planning meetings involve coordinating around "hot spots" for homeless people.
"They'll collect data and we'll do mobile outreach on the same night for anyone that doesn't come into those spots to get a count," Reddin said. "It's a pretty good system. So those meetings are just making sure that we've got the best locations lined up. They'll have bags of gear, hopefully some winter gear, hopefully some non-perishable food, things like that, that they'll be able to distribute."
The release of HUD's Point-in-Time count came two days before Dec. 21, National Homeless Memorial Day, which occurs every year on the winter solstice.
It also came days before the region around Little Rock will experience a dramatic cold snap, with non-wind chill temperatures expected in the single digits overnight into Friday.
Reddin and The Van are among groups in the area working to get unsheltered homeless people into a safe space before the worst arrives.
In Russellville, one organization is making the effort to put homeless people in motels.
The Russ Buss, founded by the city's mayor-elect, Fred Teague, committed to putting some people in rooms for one week, from Dec. 20-27, due to the cold weather and the Christmas holiday.
In a video posted to Facebook on Monday,Teague said it was a $5,000 commitment.
As of Wednesday afternoon, the group had received $5,300 in donations just via the Facebook post.
In a previous interview, Reddin said that as the cold weather arrives, it drives many homeless people from more rural areas that lack shelters to the city.
Rev. William Holloway, the founder of Little Rock's Compassion Center at 3618 W. Roosevelt Road, estimated there had been a 20% increase in traffic at the organization in the days leading up to the deep freeze and the holiday weekend.
Holloway also estimated that roughly 60% of people making use of his facilities are from Little Rock, while the remaining 40% are from outlying areas. One man he interacted with Tuesday was from Oklahoma.
"We have a lot of people right now coming in for groceries," Holloway said. "So this cold weather and the cost of inflation has probably brought a lot more people in than normal."
Holloway said his organization has opened up its warming center (which can fit roughly 200 people) and is notifying visitors about the impending deep freeze. But he said that doesn't mean they'll heed the warnings.
Why wouldn't they?
Holloway hypothesized some may "think the law is looking for them. Maybe they got a bad drug deal going on. ...
"Always a variety of different things that people come in on the account of."
When it comes to the unsheltered count, that can include people who simply don't want to go to a shelter or are prevented from doing so by rules.
Reddin attributed this to some places' maybe not allowing pets or cell phones.
The Compassion Center requires those staying overnight to surrender their phones.
"Because here it's the men's center, we have men that (are) looking for prostitutes and drugs and doing illegal stuff," Holloway said. "Then if you're sleeping next door to a person that's got his cell phone on him and his cell phone begins to ring and you're sleeping in the bed next to him. Then the fight's on. ... You understand? 'You woke me up at 2 o'clock this morning and you're gonna suffer now.'"
Aside from that, Holloway said, the only requirement needed to find safe harbor there is a desire for help.
"And most of the people that come in here are looking for help."