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Services to LR homeless back on track, organizers say



FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – When Patricia Lee moved into her sixth-floor apartment in North Little Rock Jan. 23, she had just an inflatable mattress and TV stand. Today, thanks to Jericho Way day resource center and Settled Souls, her house is a home — complete with a bed, living room set, a table and chairs, paintings and other furnishings.

“The care you know and the love that they show for people in their giving, the compassion that they have. So that really touches me to know that there are people here that really, really care,” Lee said of Settled Souls.

The hope that Lee and others are feeling thanks to assistance from Jericho Way and Settled Souls is a sign these nonprofit organizations are slowly returning to normalcy.


Vaccines and volunteers

The COVID-19 pandemic caused services at Jericho Way, a ministry of the Catholic nonprofit Depaul USA, to shift in early 2020. Portable bathrooms, hand-washing stations and extra picnic tables moved services outdoors. Today, executive director Mandy Davis said many services are back in some form, including showers, laundry and assistance on job applications. In 2019, more than 50,000 meals were served, but in 2020 it was around 30,000. Though they lost a lot of volunteers initially, Davis said they are slowly returning as more people are getting vaccinated. Masks are still required.

On March 22, a vaccine clinic through UAMS Medical Center was held at Jericho Way, with 96 shots given. The Pfizer vaccine was given to local residents while 39 homeless clients received the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

“I was tearful most of the day,” Davis said. “I sat beside a woman who was very scared. I held her hand as she received the J&J vaccine. Several older men were scared and needed someone to hold their clothes as they unlayered to get to their bare arm. It was a very special day.”

Because of cases of blood clotting linked to the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, its use was temporarily halted nationwide. The FDA and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced April 23 that J&J vaccinations could resume, noting blood clots were rare and the benefits outweigh the risks. Use of that vaccine resumed in Arkansas April 26. The Arkansas Department of Health hosted a vaccination clinic at Jericho Way May 3, using Johnson & Johnson and Moderna vaccines.

The one-dose option instead of the two-dose vaccines is the best choice for those in homelessness because of their transient lifestyle. According to an April 5 Arkansas Democrat-Gazette article, a 2020 count showed 2,336 homeless individuals in the state.

“It’s tough. It was hard to convince folks before the warning with the J&J shot, now it will really be tough,” Davis said. “It’s best practices that people experiencing homelessness receive the J&J, but we are open to giving Moderna and/or Pfizer and helping folks get to their second shot appointment.”


Welcome home

Through both Jericho Way’s own duplex units and other housing, the center found homes for 16 people formerly on the streets so far this year, Davis said. In 2020, they housed 47.

Through June 30, the CDC issued a federal moratorium on evictions for nonpayment of rent of people living in housing with federal loans or programs. While federal laws have been able to save some who have struggled to pay rent during the pandemic, a 2007 state law has allowed other landlords to evict if a renter cannot deposit the amount they owe into a state court registry before their “unlawful detainer” eviction case hearing, according to a March 1 Arkansas Democrat-Gazette article. If the tenant cannot deposit the money, they must vacate the property until the matter goes through the court system.

Arkansas’ House Bill1563, presented to the House Insurance and Commerce Committee in March but never voted on, would have allowed tenants to get their hearing before depositing money to the court registry and would have created minimum housing standards. Arkansas is the only state without habitability warranties, which require landlords to provide running water, smoke alarms and measures to control animal or pest infestations.

“One of the most painful changes in services was serving people who were being evicted to spite the moratorium. These were mostly single moms who were desperate for help,” Davis said.

This makes the work of Settled Souls, a nonprofit that provides furnishings, toiletries and food to newly housed individuals and families, all the more vital.

“This doesn’t work without them. Do you remember the (animated) movie ‘Happy Feet’? Will and Bill the krill and how much they needed each other? That’s us,” Davis said of Jericho Way and Settled Souls.

Patricia Lee, 60, moved back to Arkansas from Detroit, hoping to be closer to family during the COVID-19 pandemic. Lee moved into Little Rock’s Our House shelter Dec. 2, battled COVID-19 and moved into an apartment. On April 22, Settled Souls brought her the furniture she needed, but she made the space her own: a delicate blue tea set sitting atop a floral table runner, plants hanging from the pipes and tasteful curtains to separate the space.

“It was unbelievable, you know, really unbelievable to know that there was still help out here during this pandemic,” Lee said.

Since its founding in 2016, Settled Souls has expanded from one storage unit to four, collecting donations like bedroom, living room and dining room sets and other household items. The volunteer group provides the furniture, moves it in and sets up for clients, even hanging pictures on the wall. They help many Jericho Way clients — who have a high likelihood of remaining in stable housing — and have worked occasionally with other agencies like Our House.

Stephanie Byers and Lindsey Taggart, parishioners of Our Lady of the Holy Souls Church in Little Rock, founded the ministry with Byers serving as president. They also handle logistics and operations.

Each year, the nonprofit budgets for 48 moves. In 2019, they helped 61 people with 49 moves.

“2020 kind of ended up being an oddball year because it was totally rolling and came to a stop,” Byers said.

On March 12, 2020, the nonprofit moved in its last person. Settled Souls provided trash bags and other necessity items, like shower kits, to Jericho Way while their move-ins were on hiatus.

“No,” Byers said bluntly, about shutting down the nonprofit for a longer stretch. “We sat still for a little while, but I’m not good at sitting still. And Lindsey is not. We had to do something so it was just a matter of figuring it out.”

In May 2020, they began to make doorstep deliveries, bringing furniture to lobbies of high-rise apartments and the client and a friend or relative moved the furniture into the apartments. Byers said there were a few exceptions where they helped move, but going into elevators was not safe because of the virus.

Kitchen and bathroom supplies as well as cleaning products were delivered, and Pax Christi Little Rock provided baskets of fresh food for the clients in the summer of 2020.

Despite the three-month break, the nonprofit hit a milestone at the end of 2020, housing 250 individuals within four years. In spite of the slowdown, 65 people were housed with 41 moves in 2020.

In early April, as volunteers received their vaccines, they began moving clients in like before.

“It just brings back a sense of joy and relationship that has been missing. You don’t get to develop that level of relationship by just bringing someone goods,” Byers said. “When you’re unpacking with them, making a bed with them, hanging a shower curtain with them. It’s an opportunity to talk to this person about how we came about, that we care about them and you remember them. So if you see them, you both remember to say hello.”