Editor’s note: As the city of Conway has grown, so has its homeless population. The Log Cabin Democrat has spent weeks conducting interviews and gathering data to present a candid and complete view of homelessness in Conway. This is the final article in the series.

City officials have recognized that homelessness is a growing problem in Conway and they are taking steps to help curb the issue.

In 2017, Mayor Bart Castleberry assembled a Homeless Taskforce Committee consisting of 15 members of the community involved in various nonprofits or city government. The taskforce meets once a month to strategize.

“The Homeless Taskforce is an important element in our city because this entity provides an appropriate lobbying and advocacy voice for the poor, specifically the homeless of our city,” Phil Fletcher, City of Hope Outreach (CoHO) director and taskforce member, said. “The homeless are in search for a measure of peace – peace from long cold nights; peace from finding warmth in a laundry mat; peace from being perceived as a threat or unwilling to change their circumstances.”

The Conway Ministry Center (CMC) partnered with the city’s taskforce to provide a Warming Station from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. daily. The Warming Station opened on Christmas Eve and will continue through February.

CMC Executive Director Spring Hunter said that on Jan. 17, the mayor made an exception to the rules to help those in need.

“The [Warming] Station is supposed to close every morning at 7, but at that time this morning, the temperature outside [was] only 8 degrees,” she said. “The mayor has allowed us to stay open today because of the extreme cold.”

Because the taskforce members are involved in organizations that help the homeless on a regular basis, they knew what would be needed at the Warming Station.

“The agencies on the task force had a major role for months in seeing the station through to opening,” Hunter said. “Some went above and beyond as we received blankets from CAPCA [Community Action Program for Central Arkansas] and hygiene items from Bethlehem House.

“The United Way of Central Arkansas provided the funds for us to provide a small stipend to Ryan, our live-in manager. The Women’s Shelter launders our blankets and linens twice a week, and they do pick-up and delivery. COHO has been providing staffing as needed.”

Fletcher said the taskforce is also working with Castleberry to launch a pilot jobs program “which will identify qualified men and women who live in one of the local shelters and recommend those individuals for seasonal employment within city departments.”

“We are working with Mayor Castleberry and the city departments to allocate one to two positions for these recommended men and women, who will have seasonal employment from April to October,” Fletcher said. “This pilot program adds no additional money to the budget and requires no increase in taxes, but what it does is leverage an opportunity between city government and nonprofits to improve the economic situation of persons staying at one of our local homeless facilities, and stimulates more opportunities for these men and women.”

Another way the city is addressing homelessness is by approving a rezoning request for a property designed to help with the problem.

The Conway City Council on Tuesday approved rezoning 604 and 606 E. Robins St. to a planned unit development (PUD) called Hope Village.

“We are seeking this PUD to build 10 ‘tiny homes’ to address homelessness here in our city,” Fletcher told aldermen on Tuesday. “These 10 tiny homes will be a rental approach. Sixty percent would go to those that are homeless; 20 percent would go to homeless veterans; and the other 20 percent would go to low-income and middle-income persons.

“We will be joining our two pieces of property and then proceed to fundraising for the ability to build these homes. [We] hope in the next two years to have these built and occupied.”

The Homeless Taskforce meets at noon the third Wednesday of the month at the United Way of Central Arkansas. The meetings are open to the public.

The taskforce members include:

Chairperson Judi Lively, Bethlehem House. Aimee Prince, Bethlehem House. Phil Fletcher, City of Hope Outreach. Maret Cahill, United Way of Central Arkansas. Latresha Woodruff, Conway Police Department. Vicki Crockett, Community Volunteer. Robert Wright, Independent Living Services. Debbie Hendrix, Salvation Army. Spring Hunter, The Ministry Center. Laura King, The Ministry Center. Jema Quintana, CAPCA, Inc. Carrie Curtis, The Women's Shelter. Traci Harvey, Soul Food Café Mission. Kiera Oluokun, Office of the Mayor Representative. Felicia Rogers, Office of the Mayor Representative.