Homeless shelter CEO leaving post
Rader plans to help out during transition phase
FAYETTEVILLE — Now that 7 Hills Homeless Center has gotten its feet under it and has a plan for the future its chief executive officer has decided to move onto something new.
Bill Rader, who has served as head of the organization since May 2015, told the 7 Hills board of his intention to leave within six months. Rader wants to stick around to help guide his replacement during the transition.
The organization was in shambles before Rader took over. Yearly expenses exceeded revenue and it was hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt. Money was going out but not coming in. The grant management was in disarray, locking up thousands
more in receivable money. The organization struggled to make payroll. Its programs for supportive housing, veterans services and the day center operated like three separate entities. The previous administration misrepresented the organization’s dire straits to the board.
Rader made it his mission to change all that.
“There was no leadership. There was no vision. There was no strategy,” he said. “It was very much day-by-day where there’s a thousand plates spinning in the air. When one plate spins out, it starts this cascade effect. It had started cascading before we got here.”
Rader and Chief Operations Officer Charity Stillings got to work, making cuts
and eventually reducing the budget from $2.8 million to $1.5 million, while still serving a growing homeless population. This year’s survey from the University of Arkansas Community and Family Institute found 2,951 people live without residences of their own in Northwest Arkansas. The number was about 500 more than the year before and double from a decade ago.
7 Hills has strengthened its ties to the business and church community. In May, it received a $325,000 “angel investment” on property it purchased in 2013 for the Day Center. The balloon payment, meaning payback of the loan was due at a certain time rather than in monthly installments, threatened to shut down the organization. Now, 7 Hills owes the investor group who made the payment, rather than a bank, with monthly payments it can afford under a lower interest rate. The investors have chosen to remain anonymous.
Lynn Carver, 7 Hills board chairwoman, said Rader had a necessary skill set, raised morale and focused the community’s attention on not only homelessness but the organization’s internal problems.
“I couldn’t see what we could do past closing our doors,” she said. “That was problematic, first of all, because of the people who rely on our services. But also, what do you do with buildings and how do you pay off a debt if you’re going bankrupt?”
The city also started supporting the organization. The City Council made a onetime dedication of $103,000 to keep the lights on at the Walker supportive housing community. The council in February also committed to 7 Hills $25,000 per month, renewable up to six months, totaling $150,000.
Mayor Lioneld Jordan said Rader came along as a stabilizing force who spoke honestly to city officials.
“We just didn’t have a whole lot of dealings with 7 Hills,” Jordan said. “I mean, I always supported 7 Hills, but really with the finances and what kind of shape they were in, I really did not know that until Billy came on the scene and said, ‘We’ve got to make some changes here.’”
Angela Belford became chairwoman of the regional Continuum of Care last month. The group puts organizations, nonprofits and municipalities together to combat homelessness and receives money from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
The Continuum had its own issues before Belford took over. Rader guided Belford to reach out to a national consultant, Community Solutions, and get the Continuum’s basic paperwork and goals in line. A meeting of community leaders is scheduled for the fall to take a regional approach to ending homelessness.
“He inspired me to jump into the fray,” Belford said. “Without his vision I probably wouldn’t have believed I could make a difference and become an ambassador for homelessness in our community.”
The new 7 Hills chief executive officer can focus on the original mission, ending homelessness in the region, rather than solving all the internal woes. Steven Mills came on about a month ago as the new chief operations officer so Stillings can pursue youth ministry with New Heights Church. Mills worked with Rader and Stillings during their time at the Boys & Girls Club of the Ozarks in Branson, Mo.
Solomon Burchfield, director of operations at 7 Hills, foresees a smooth transition. Burchfield had been working at 7 Hills for more than a year when Rader came on and said the vibe has changed for the better. Losing staff members initially was tough, but the work flow became more efficient, he said. He hopes to eventually add to the about 20 staff members.
“As a nonprofit, I feel like we always should begin with what’s the need in the community and where are the gaps. Then you design the organization’s strategy around, ‘How do we meet those needs?’” Burchfield said. “If you look at Northwest Arkansas, you know that the homelessness issue is growing. If that’s true, then our programming needs to be growing as well.”
Rader set his sights on getting the organization from a position of hemorrhaging money to becoming revenue neutral. More so, he wanted to emphasize the regional approach needed and get city officials, nonprofit and private business leaders and the public on board.
“I kind of had to ring the community’s bell and say, ‘7 Hills can be the issue, but it’s not the issue,’” Rader said. “Thankfully, nobody’s mad at me. I did it for a good cause. I did it because the community is better off if we work together to solve this. Nobody is served by a nonprofit working in isolation trying to solve a problem that affects everybody.”
As far as what’s next for Rader, he said he has no immediate plans. Maybe he’ll finally go see the Crystal Bridges Museum. He said he’s excited about having poker night again. He just rented the first season of “Game of Thrones.”
Either way, he will serve on the board for the Continuum of Care and keep himself available to 7 Hills as an advisor. The new chief executive officer’s salary will be based on experience. Rader had 10 years of nonprofit work under his belt when he started, earning a $100,000 salary with no benefits.
“This organization is, like, tattooed on my heart,” Rader said. “This has been seven days a week with 80-hour weeks. It’s been two years of not-an-option-to-fail. So, I’m excited. My family’s excited.”
“This organization is, like, tattooed on my heart. This has been seven days a week with 80-hour weeks. It’s been two years of not-an-option-to-fail.”
— Bill Rader, CEO, 7 Hills Homeless Center