Homeless center sets opening for Sept. 29
Fort Smith facility to help with jobs, education, housing, health services
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.”
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.