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Just in the nick of time!
As frigid weather begins to sink its icy cold teeth into Mountain Home and Baxter County, the crew at The Reach Center have managed to finish enough of the remodel at their new location on East Arkansas Avenue to open their doors to the city’s growing homeless population yesterday morning.
In celebration of the big day, Real Life Church Pastor Vince Daniel and Reach Center Director Vanessa Barrow hosted an open house and walk-through of the center’s new homeless shelter to the public Monday evening.
The event was attended by members of the community as well as various partner organizations like Baxter Health. Mountain Home City Councilwoman Jennifer Baker was also in attendance at the open house.
“According to the city, we can sleep up to 25,” said Pastor Vince Daniel as he gave a tour of the center’s new location. “Last year, our top number per night was about 23. We have some room to expand. We also have a family room, or a minor’s room if we have any students come. There’s a homeless population in our high school right now. So, if we have any students, we’re able to keep them separated from the general population.”
Started by Real Life Church in 2021, The Reach Center has spent the last three years providing shelter and services to the homeless population in Mountain Home and Baxter County.
The center began its life following a snowstorm that managed to catch the City of Mountain Home and the Salvation Army off guard. As the city struggled with freezing temperatures, Adams reached out to Jeff Quick, CEO of the Food Bank of North Central Arkansas, to come up with a fail-safe plan to ensure that the homeless had a shelter to go to during inclement weather.
Both Adams and Quick approached Real Life Church about using their auditorium, which was quickly converted into a 40-cot shelter that provided meals, showers and laundry service. The shelter was overseen by 50 volunteers.
In addition to the shelter, Real Life Church took the opportunity to begin helping those who used the shelter to learn new life skills and reenter the workforce.
The shelter was a success and eventually became its own separate organization. As it continued to grow, The Reach Center began looking for a new location, eventually landing at 2335 E. Arkansas Ave.
Daniel said he found the location, which was previously the Fellowship Church of Mountain Home, after driving on Arkansas Avenue one afternoon. He secured the property after a phone call to the church’s pastor.
Daniel said he credits the Fellowship Church of Mountain Home for working with The Reach Center and Real Life Church to continue assisting the impoverished in Mountain Home.
“I called the former pastor and said, ‘hey what are you doing with the building?’ He said, ‘We’re closed, hopefully we can use it for some sort of ministry.’ I said, what if it’s a community outreach program,’ and he said, ‘that’s the same thing for us.’ It was just a great opportunity,” said Daniel.
The Reach Center’s new location features a large, general population room that sleeps 25 individuals at a time. Each guest at the center receives their own bed, which is partitioned off from the other beds by three dividers. Men and women are divided on each side of the space, with a row of community tables dividing the room.
Each room in the center is under 24-hour surveillance and features multiple cameras and microphones. A staff member will be present at the center at all times.
After checking in and receiving a bed at the center, guests will receive a fresh pair of sweatpants and will be assigned a personal laundry basket that will stay next to their private bed space. All guests will be required to shower each day and must shower immediately after checking in with staff.
Following the shower, guests will be asked to begin doing their own laundry. Both the showers and the laundry room are currently in an outside trailer but will eventually be moved inside after the center finishes its work on the bathrooms.
Indoor toilets for men and women are currently available. The center will be closed for a short time in the warmer months of 2024 to install a mandatory fire sprinkler system and finish its renovations. Once completed, the center will operate year-round.
All personal items such as cigarettes and legal medication will be placed in an assigned locker that will be overseen by staff. No drugs or alcohol is allowed at The Reach Center. Guests will be allowed to check out cigarettes from their lockers for smoke breaks throughout the day.
A large family room featuring bunk beds is also available for families that are in need of shelter. This room is separate from the general public and has its own door. The center’s rec room, which features couches and a large television, can also be converted to another family room if needed.
The Reach Center is the only homeless shelter in Baxter County that offers facilities for homeless children and full families.
All beds within the center are designed to combat the spread of bed bugs. Guests may stay for a total of three months before being asked to leave.
During their stay, guests will receive meals throughout the day, and will also be allowed to cook food for themselves in the center’s half kitchen. The kitchen features a fridge and several toaster ovens.
Throughout the day, guests will be required to participate in planned activities and may not stay in their bunks.
The Reach Center offers basic life skills classes covering topics like finances, job application building, interviewing skills, parenting, basic home and auto care. These courses are not mandatory but are highly recommended. Guests will also be asked to help volunteer to clean up and assist in other activities while staying at the center.
Staff will also assist guests in signing up for Medicare and Medicaid, as well as other government programs. Director Vanessa Barrow said the center will also assist guests in getting their driver’s licenses if they do not have legal identification.
Guests will also be pointed to other partner programs like Serenity or Gamma House if needed. The Reach Center is currently partnered with medical and mental health professionals at Baxter Health. The center also has 10 trained mentors to assist guests in learning the life skills needed to get back on their feet.
“You can come here and stay for those three months, what can we do to get you out of this situation you’re in,” said Barrow. “How did you end up here? And what do we have to do to get you sustainable housing? Do you need to go to Gamma? Have you had domestic violence? Do you need to work through mental health stuff? We’re a funnel but also a place where they can stay.”
According to the Arkansas Department of Education, Baxter County has seen a rise in homelessness over the last year, with 263 homeless individuals being tracked in Quarter 4 of 2023. Roughly 189 individuals are currently being tracked in the county at the beginning of the new year.
Those 263 individuals are a drastic rise from the same time period in 2022, with only 164 people being tracked by the end of the year. The county usually lingers around 150 homeless individuals at any given time throughout the year according to ADE’s homeless tracker.
In 2022, Mountain Home Public Schools tracked roughly 90 students across its various campuses who were homeless– over half of the entire homeless population in Baxter County for that year.
Altogether, homelessness rose by 6.1% in Arkansas this past year.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Arkansas households saw zero percent growth in their personal incomes during 2023. The state’s GDP grew by a staggeringly low 0.2% for the year, coming in as the third poorest state for the year following Alabama and Rhode Island.
Arkansas currently accounts for 0.6% of the U.S. economy. The state ranks 41st for homelessness and 7th for drug use.