The combination of the pandemic and the arrival of cold weather is worsening the difficulties faced by the homeless in Little Rock. According to organizations serving the homeless in the state's capital city, the number of people seeking help has increased since the onset of the pandemic.
Pastor William Holloway, CEO of the Little Rock Compassion Center, said the emergency shelter for the homeless has averaged 175 people per night in recent weeks—more than 25 per people than normal for this time of year.
"We're getting people now that are losing their jobs in other states, and they're originally from Arkansas. Now they're trying to come back home."
Holloway describes the Compassion Center's facilities as a barracks with double bunk beds, making extra blankets and sheets needed items. He said the Arkansas Department of Health offered some guidelines for preventing the spread of COVID-19.
In addition to taking the temperature of people before they enter the facility, Holloway said, "We've turned everybody head to toe when they sleep, so they'd be a good distance from each other."
Donations of coats and warm clothing are also requested now that winter weather has arrived. Many community centers run by the city have been closed due to the pandemic, adding to the burden of emergency shelters during the days as well as nights. Our House, another organization serving the homeless in Little Rock, has been forced to reduce capacity by a third, despite an increase in demand.
"The need is always beyond our ability to meet, but it is even further beyond now. And probably at the highest it's ever been," said Executive Director Ben Goodwin. Prior to the pandemic, Our House's career center for adults was open 8 a.m.–8 p.m. for anyone needing help.
"Now the career center is [open] by appointment only, and that has significantly reduced the number of people who come onto our campus," Goodwin said. "It's not an overnight program, but it is a place where people could spend a pretty good chunk of their day getting food, getting clothing support, getting time to be inside and get help accessing other resources."
To meet some of the increased demand caused by the pandemic, Our House and the City of Little Rock partnered to expand a financial resources hotline in October. The service received over 1,200 calls for help last month. Goodwin said The Van and Jericho Way are two other central Arkansas organizations in need of donations to provide direct support for what he describes as "unprecedented need" for the homeless in the region.
The National Weather Service predicts nighttime temperatures in central Arkansas will be below freezing again this week.