State Funding Comes Through For ‘Hope Campus’ In Fort Smith

Riverside

A former furniture factory at 301 S. E St., seen Oct. 3, 2013, is the planned site for a future homeless campus.

It was announced Wednesday that the Arkansas Development Finance Authority approved $695,000 worth of grants for a future homeless and social services campus in downtown Fort Smith, setting the stage for phase one of the multi-million dollar effort.

To build what it calls Riverview Hope Campus, the Old Fort Homeless Coalition plans to purchase a 7.5-acre property at 301 S. E St. that includes a 127,500-square-foot former furniture factory. The coalition, which had already secured $2.1 million of the needed $2.9 million for the project’s first of three phases, applied for $695,000 worth of additional funds through the Arkansas Development Finance Authority in August.

On Feb. 19, the ADFA’s Board of Directors approved the request. The Fort Smith campus and other statewide projects were the first to receive a portion of the funds through an Arkansas Housing Trust Fund pilot program.“Our existing housing programs are not structured to provide assistance to homeless populations,” ADFA Vice President of Housing Sara Oliver stated in a news release. “For the first time, the Arkansas Housing Trust Fund has provided the authority with the means to support affordable housing for homeless individuals and families.”The latest grants, along with about $200,000 in bridge loans, places the coalition in a position to purchase the property and begin construction, Old Fort Homeless Coalition programs director Debbie Everly said. “We’re just very excited,” she said. “We are where we need to be. We have started the process already of looking for an architect and purchasing the building.”The entire project totals $3.9 million. The first phase includes acquisition of the building, 75 low-barrier beds, on-site medical and mental health services, a kennel, worship center and space for nonprofit organizations and other agencies.

The plan, Everly said, is to open the campus by August 2016. “We have 75-85 unsheltered people sleeping outdoors every night,” Everly said. “So many of our services are scattered across our area. It’s just been proven that having services under one roof gives them a better chance of getting out of homelessness and back to self-sufficiency. They’ll have the medical care there, the mental care, job search, GED classes, Alcoholics Anonymous. You name it; it’s going to be there.”In January, Mercy Fort Smith announced it will provide medical services at the campus. Mercy committed up to $350,000 to help build and staff a clinic inside the building.

Other first-phase funding sources include $603,441 in Community Development Block Grants through the city of Fort Smith, a $500,000 grant from the Federal Home Loan Bank of Dallas and hundreds of thousands in donations and in-kind services.