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As homelessness continues to rise in Baxter County, the City of Mountain Home is mulling over options to assist The Reach Center in finishing its transition from an emergency shelter into a fully-fledged organization.
The Reach Center is currently in the process of becoming a non-profit and is looking to open the doors to its new location on East Arkansas Avenue in Mountain Home in the next few weeks.
City Council was scheduled to hold a public discussion on potentially partnering with The Reach Center at this week’s scheduled council meeting, but the discussion was pulled from the agenda yesterday afternoon.
Mountain Home Mayor Hillrey Adams said the discussion is being moved to a later date to allow city officials to explore more options in assisting The Reach Center in its mission to tackle homelessness in Mountain Home.
Adams emphasized that The Reach Center has not asked the city for financial assistance, though that may be an option City Council will look at in the future. Adams said if financial assistance were to be offered, it would be a small amount.
The Reach Center is currently partnered with the Mountain Home Police Department.
“We’ll probably know more later this week or next week,” said Mayor Adams. “What’s being looked at is, I know a lot of cities do different things, a lot of times cities are very involved in homeless shelters and things like that. We don’t want to get involved in that type of stuff, but there is some work being done by The Reach Center. I prefer transitional stuff because there’s ways to help people get in a better situation, they just need a little help. The Reach Center has done a lot of good for the city that a lot of people don’t even know about during inclement weather and stuff.”
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 organization.
Today, The Reach Center offers basic life skills classes covering topics like finances, job application building, interviewing skills, parenting, basic home and auto care. Its emergency shelter also offers a lower barrier to entry, with standards to stay. Standards include active participation in its life skill classes and mentorship programs.
The center has also secured shower and laundry trailers for its new location. The center does not offer assistance with food or utilities but will direct individuals to other organizations that provide for immediate needs.
To date, The Reach Center has provided life skill classes to 128 visitors and offered 96 people a place to sleep. A total of 14 visitors left the center with housing or connections for additional resources.
“We had one gentleman who was living in a van, he was able to come to The Reach Center,” said Vince Daniel of The Reach Center during City Council’s Dec. 21 meeting. “We started asking questions about him and realized that his situation had nothing to do with drugs or crime. It was just the brokenness of a person who didn’t know what to do. His spouse passed away in the night when they were in bed, and he couldn’t walk back into his house because of grief. You don’t know the impact you have on these people until you have dinner with them. Until you sit down and just realize that they’re folks that are struggling, that hit a season they didn’t see coming.”
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.
Baxter County saw its highest number of homeless living in the county in 2013, with numbers rising to 315 individuals. Prior to the 2008 Recession, the county averaged around 50 homeless individuals per quarter.
After the 2008 Recession, the United States saw a spike in homelessness and drug use, specifically with fentanyl. Baxter County has higher than average drug rates and suicide rates when compared to other counties in Arkansas.
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.