2015 Point-In-Time Count
Unsheltered Homeless Numbers On The Rise
The Old Fort Homeless Coalition released the results of the 2015 Point-In-Time count, which shows that the number of unsheltered homeless in 2015 increased compared from 2014 by 11%. The 2015 surveys show 179 people are homeless in the River Valley, with 92 of those unsheltered. In 2014, there were 185 people homeless in Fort Smith with 72 of those unsheltered. In 2013, there were 228 people homeless in Fort Smith with 69 of those individuals being unsheltered. Volunteers and staff from area homeless shelters and other agencies conducted the Point-in-Time Count on January 22, 2015.
During the count, volunteers and staff interview individuals at numerous locations including the Salvation Army, 301 N. Sixth St., the Next Step Day Room, 123 N. Sixth St., G0spel Rescue Mission, 201 Drennen St. in Van Buren, the Veterans Administration Outpatient Clinic, 1500 Dodson Ave, and the Community Rescue Mission, 310 N. F St., during the 24-hour window to conduct the interviews. The volunteers and staff also traveled to different camp sites where local homeless clients are known to stay and conducted counts including Hope Park in downtown Fort Smith and St. John’s Sack Lunch program in Fort Smith. The confidential survey answers are then entered in to the Homeless Management Information System database, which is administered through Little Rock Community Mental Health Center in order to prevent duplicate entries.
“This year, we tried to ensure that all individuals experiencing homelessness, both those in shelters and the unsheltered, were counted,” reports Debbie Everly, Director of Homeless Programs for the City of Fort Smith. “We strive each year to have the most accurate count possible.”
The Department of Housing and Urban Development mandates that states do the point-in-time survey at the county level annually for sheltered individuals. The unsheltered count is required every other year. The Old Fort Homeless Coalition completes both counts each year in the River Valley.
An incentive bag of items was given to those who participated in the surveys. The bag included food items such as snacks and soft drinks, warm weather accessories such as socks, hats, and gloves, and toiletry products such as soap, shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste, toothbrush, disposable razors, shaving cream, bandages, cough drops, and hand warmers. For women there were also be feminine hygiene products. All of the items in the incentive bags are donated by area agencies, churches, and individuals.
Reasons for individuals experiencing homelessness range from families with children who are fleeing domestic violence, loss of employment, or recently evicted from their housing. Still others are individuals with serious mental illness or other disabilities. Of the 179 individuals who were counted as homeless in 2015, there are:
- 42 people, or 23%, who are severely mentally ill;
- 42 people, or 23%, who cited they suffered chronic substance abuse;
- 43 people, or 24%, who are victims of domestic violence;
- 91 people, or 52% who are chronic homeless; and,
- 33 people, or 18%, who are military veterans.
The rise in the number of unsheltered individuals experiencing homelessness is a problem that will be addressed in 2016 with the opening of the Riverview Hope Campus for those individuals experiencing chronic homelessness. “The increase in the number of unsheltered individuals demonstrates that there is a definite need for the Riverview Hope Campus to provide more adequate services in one spot for our area’s homeless population,” stated Everly.
The Riverview Hope Campus is a project of the Old Fort Homeless Coalition, which is a collaborative partnership of approximately 30 different service providers addressing the issues of homelessness and poverty in the Arkansas River Valley. The mission of the Riverview Hope Campus is to provide help within reach by offering a 75-bed low-barrier shelter, nutritious meals, and meeting the basic human needs of chronically homeless individuals in the River Valley. Riverview Hope Campus will advocate for the rights of the homeless and work in collaborative partnership with other area service providers to end chronic homelessness in Sebastian, Crawford, Franklin, Logan, Polk, and Scott counties.