Bus fire dis­pro­por­tion­ately af­fects home­less com­mu­nity

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NORTHWEST ARKANSAS - RON WOOD

FAYETTEVILLE — Ozark Re­gional Tran­sit of­fi­cials say they hope, if all goes well, to have all their bus routes back up and run­ning by Tues­day.

“I’m still ag­gres­sively push­ing for Tues­day at 100 per­cent,” said Joel Gard­ner, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of ORT. “I won’t be dis­ap­pointed if we don’t make that, but I won’t be sur­prised if we do. It’s an ag­gres­sive goal and I think we can do it.”

An early morn­ing fire Tues­day de­stroyed 20 of the tran­sit provider’s 26 buses, leav­ing only two ser­vice­able. Four buses un­der­go­ing re­pair were spared from the blaze. The cause of the fire and the cost of the dam­age hasn’t been de­ter­mined.

Loaner buses have been rolling in ever since the fire. Gard­ner said he’s send­ing eight driv­ers to Wi­chita, Kan., to­day and two to Pine Bluff to pick up ve­hi­cles. A bus en route from Ken­tucky is also ex­pected to ar­rive to­day.

“We are rapidly putting this thing to­gether so we can have ser­vice in a very short pe­riod of time,” Gard­ner said. “I think the only thing that’s go­ing to pre­vent 100 per­cent ser­vice on the road is how many day­light hours we can put in on main­te­nance. We have to do a fi­nal check be­fore we can re­lease them out on the road.”

The tran­sit ser­vice ran two routes Wed­nes­day and Thurs­day and will add six routes to­day. ORT usu­ally runs 14 routes daily and none on week­ends.

Solomon Burch­field, di­rec­tor of oper­a­tions at 7 Hills Home­less Cen­ter, said the loss of bus ser­vice is hav­ing a rip­ple ef­fect that’s neg­a­tively im­pact­ing many of his clients.

The num­ber of peo­ple eat­ing meals at the cen­ter Wed­nes­day and Thurs­day was down, in­di­cat­ing some peo­ple aren’t able to get to 7 Hills by bus who nor­mally do, Solomon said. Sev­eral in­di­vid­u­als have re-sched­uled med­i­cal ap­point­ments be­cause of lack of trans­porta­tion and one woman who’s look­ing for work came in for help in find­ing po­ten­tial em­ploy­ers close enough to the cen­ter that she could walk.

Burch­field said some clients are mak­ing use of the more lim­ited Ra­zor­back Tran­sit sys­tem routes where pos­si­ble.

Pamela Palasty made it to 7 Hills on Thurs­day but said the lack of bus ser­vice is a prob­lem for her and oth­ers in the home­less com­mu­nity.

“It’s meant a lot for me. I’m look­ing for a job and the only thing I can ap­ply for is lo­cally. I don’t have a bus to ride, first to ap­ply and then, se­cond, to take the bus to work. That’s the ul­ti­mate plan,” Palasty said. “It was a shock­ing awak­en­ing on how much we de­pend on the bus sys­tem just to do our daily lives. We re­ally do seek bet­ter and we use the buses to get around to do that. We can’t change our lives un­less we can get to jobs.”

Palasty said she and oth­ers de­pend on the bus to get to med­i­cal ap­point­ments and other nec­es­sary places, es­pe­cially when it’s cold and there is rain or snow. The fore­cast is for rain through Tues­day.

“We’ve talked about how it’s go­ing to ef­fect us and we’re at a stand­still al­most be­cause a lot of us, my­self for ex­am­ple, I have an ap­point­ment next week at Ozark Guid­ance,” Palasty said. “Ob­vi­ously I have no ride and that’s kind of the general thing. Peo­ple, they do go for­ward but with no bus it’s like it has shut ev­ery­thing down.”

Palasty said peo­ple who usu­ally would take the bus have turned to ask­ing for rides from friends or rel­a­tives un­til ser­vice is re­stored.

“We’ve de­pended on the very few who have a ve­hi­cle and it’s very few,” Palasty said. “Me. I don’t have any friends or rel­a­tives here but I’m go­ing to try to get a ride to my ap­point­ment.”

Palasty said she and oth­ers learned the buses had burned watch­ing lo­cal news Tues­day morn­ing.

“It was a shock for the first day. Every­one was just like a deer in the head­lights. It’s af­fected every­one,” Palasty said. “I can’t tell you how much we de­pend on the buses. We re­ally ap­pre­ci­ate the buses so it will be a real happy day when we have a bus again.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.