City of Harrison, Ark. working with health care group to address homelessness

Mayor Jerry Jackson formed the special committee in January because of an increase in the homeless population and numerous disturbances in the downtown area.
Published: Aug. 23, 2022 at 11:52 AM CDT
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HARRISON, Ark. (KY3) - The city of Harrison and its special committee on homelessness will work with Boston Mountain Rural Health to address homelessness concerns in the city.

Mayor Jerry Jackson formed the special committee in January because of an increase in the homeless population and numerous disturbances in the downtown area.

“We assigned that committee to address the issue and discuss possible solutions,” said Mayor Jackson. “We’ve learned a lot in this process, primarily that our homelessness issue is a mental health issue. We’re working to address that with the help of organizations. But on top of that, we’ve seen a steady decline in our homelessness population here in recent months.”

According to Harrison’s House of Hope, 93 homeless families have been placed in permanent housing over the last 18 months, a portion of which has continued with the day center’s input to the special committee.

“We’ve seen a steady decline in the population of homeless, in large part due to the housing placement we’ve had,” said William Tollett, executive director with House of Hope. “What we’re seeing is that from initial assessment, we’re placing families within four to six weeks to get them into housing.”

Non-profit organizations in Harrison have been vital in helping the special committee define the problem, partnership with Boston Mountain is headed by Dr. Dawn Phelps, who has attended special committee meetings.

“We were able to offer our services to the City of Harrison to help with the homeless population,” said Dr. Phelps. “Because we know that a large portion of the homeless population has mental health issues and addiction issues.”

Boston Mountain is a federally qualified health center (FQHC) and receives funding through Medicare and Medicaid as reimbursement for providing outpatients services to rural areas.

“We are able to provide health coverage to anybody regardless of whether or not they have health insurance,” said Dr. Phelps. “Being a doctor, I think everybody should have that kind of help and have their needs met. People should be able to have a home, healthcare, well-being and have their needs addressed.”

Dr. Phelps says discussion with the special committee has emphasized mental health issues and removing stigmas. She says she was encouraged by the city to work to provide resources.

“I’m encouraged by the steps the committee is taking, like helping develop and work with Boston Mountain. We have the potential to see an impact there,” said Tollett. “But a lot of that is going to depend on the cooperation of the individual that will go for mental health services.”

Jackson says the committee has also emphasized panhandling, which has been a longstanding issue in Harrison. Panhandling is legal by law in the state of Arkansas.

“In places like Chicago panhandling is prohibited, and we faced different obstacles,” said Mayor Jackson. “Our main focus with that is to inform the public on the situation. The work of the community has really led to that decrease because when you stop giving to the panhandlers for profit, they’re going to find somewhere else to go.”

The Harrison homelessness committee will meet in September with its final report and course of action.

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