Home­less cen­ter sets open­ing for Sept. 29

Fort Smith fa­cil­ity to help with jobs, education, hous­ing, health ser­vices

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - DAVE HUGHES

FORT SMITH — Con­struc­tion crews are com­plet­ing ren­o­va­tion of a closed fur­ni­ture fac­tory build­ing into a cen­tral lo­ca­tion where home­less peo­ple can get meals, a safe place to sleep and a way back into so­ci­ety.

Of­fi­cials with the Riverview Hope Cam­pus are aim­ing for a Sept. 29 open­ing for the 35,000-square­foot cam­pus in the for­mer 127,000-square-foot River­side Fur­ni­ture fac­tory at 301 S. E St. Ren­o­va­tion work be­gan in early Oc­to­ber.

It ap­peared Fri­day that open­ing day is still far off. The build­ing was a ca­coph­ony of men lean­ing into grinders and drills, mixed with the high-pitch whine of mo­tors and the beep­ing of crawl­ing hoists in the back­ground. Men shouted and toted tools and ma­te­ri­als up and down halls, and rock mu­sic blasted while they worked.

Cam­pus Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor Chris Joan­nides said crews should be fin­ished

with the con­struc­tion work by the mid­dle of the month, leav­ing the fin­ish­ing touches to be com­pleted by open­ing day.

Staff mem­bers and ten­ants who will pro­vide ser­vices at the cam­pus al­ready are reach­ing out to the home­less to make them aware of the open­ing.

“There’s al­ready enough in the ru­mor mill in that sub­cul­ture, if you will, that they know it’s hap­pen­ing,” Joan­nides said. “And, hon­estly, they are right out­side my door. That’s where the camp is.”

Greg Pair, pres­i­dent of the cam­pus board of di­rec­tors, said he is get­ting ex­cited as the open­ing ap­proaches for the $4 mil­lion cam­pus.

He thanked the com­mu­nity for sup­port­ing the de­vel­op­ment of the cam­pus over the past five years and for con­tin­ued sup­port for the home­less.

“The whole ob­ject is to take peo­ple who are down and out and help them so they can make a dif­fer­ence in the com­mu­nity and get a job and as­sim­i­late back into so­ci­ety,” Pair said.

The largest area of the cam­pus will be the 75-bed, low-de­mand shel­ter that will ad­mit any­one as long as they don’t have al­co­hol or drugs and are not vi­o­lent. Peo­ple at the shel­ter will have ac­cess to sleep­ing mats, se­cure stor­age for their pos­ses­sions, a ken­nel for pets, food, a shower, a bath­room, laun­dry, a bar­ber, a den­tist and doc­tors.

Mercy Hos­pi­tal has com­pleted de­vel­op­ment of the $350,000 clinic that will pro­vide free med­i­cal treat­ment and med­i­ca­tion. Joan­nides said the clinic also will help clients sign up for ser­vices such as Med­i­caid.

One of the ben­e­fits of the clinic, Joan­nides said, will be to sta­bi­lize peo­ple who suf­fer from men­tal prob­lems so case work­ers in other ar­eas of the cam­pus can be­gin to help them take ad­van­tage of education op­por­tu­ni­ties or job train­ing and be­come self-suf­fi­cient.

He said his four tar­gets in help­ing the home­less are em­ploy­ment, education, hous­ing and health.

“The whole model is go­ing to be self-suf­fi­ciency,” he said. “At the end of the day, I want you back to work.”

Joan­nides led a tour of the cam­pus Fri­day. In the re­cep­tion area, he pointed out the re­cep­tion­ist sta­tion, and of­fices for se­cu­rity guards and case work­ers.

Down a hall­way he pointed to a bar­ber­shop, for which he said he just pur­chased a bar­ber chair off Face­book. He said he is just be­gin­ning to seek bar­bers to vol­un­teer and has got­ten a com­mit­ment so far from a stylist in Van Buren.

Next to the bar­ber shop will be a den­tist of­fice for which a lo­cal den­tist has do­nated all the den­tal equip­ment. He still has to find den­tists to vol­un­teer.

A 2,300-square-foot com­mu­nity room will be set up with cu­bi­cles for agen­cies that pro­vide ser­vices to meet with clients. Among them, Joan­nides said, are Mercy’s home­less out­reach pro­gram, the Craw­ford-Se­bas­tian Com­mu­nity De­vel­op­ment Coun­cil, adult education, the De­part­ment of Vet­er­ans Af­fairs, St. Anne’s util­ity as­sis­tance pro­gram and the Western Arkansas Coun­sel­ing and Guid­ance Cen­ter.

The cafe­te­ria has new equip­ment for cook­ing, re­frig­er­a­tion, serv­ing, stor­age and clean­ing. Joan­nides said the cafe­te­ria will serve all three meals, and he es­ti­mated serv­ing about 160 meals a day.

Joan­nides said a cook has been hired, but he hopes kitchen help could be pro­vided by vol­un­teers from the more than 250 min­istries in town. He has spo­ken to groups and hopes to get at least 40 min­istries to sign up to vol­un­teer.

Large space for class­rooms has been set up for Fort Smith Adult Education to teach English as a sec­ond lan­guage and Gen­eral Ed­u­ca­tional De­vel­op­ment classes two or three days a week, he said.

A library also is be­ing set up where clients can use com­put­ers, sit at ta­bles to draw up re­sumes or read a book, Joan­nides said. He said he heard the Sis­ters of Mercy were look­ing for a project and he was con­sid­er­ing propos­ing they adopt the library.

“My con­stant mes­sage is go­ing to be com­mu­nity in­volve­ment,” he said. “I am not go­ing to suc­ceed un­less the com­mu­nity buys in.”

Arkansas Demo­crat-Gazette/DAVE HUGHES

A worker puts the fin­ish­ing touches on the fa­cade of the Riverview Hope Cam­pus that is sched­uled to open at the end of Septem­ber in Fort Smith. The cam­pus will pro­vide a cen­tral lo­ca­tion for a va­ri­ety of ser­vices for the home­less.

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