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Fort Smith residents voice concerns over rezoning for homeless shelter

The Board of Directors met to discuss, ask questions and hear concerns about a rezoning proposal that’s causing some controversy in one Fort Smith neighborhood.

FORT SMITH, Ark. — A proposal that would bring a shelter for those facing homelessness near a Fort Smith neighborhood is causing some controversy among residents in the River Valley.

The proposal would allow a plan by Next Step Homeless Services to build a new shelter near South U Street and Towson Avenue in Fort Smith.

“They're a series of questions by the mayor and the board of directors,” Fort Smith City Administrator Carl Geffken explained during a Board of Directors meeting.

There was nearly a full room inside the Blue Lion on Tuesday, Jan. 25, with concerned neighbors and those with the nonprofit organization Next Step Homeless Services showing up to express their opinions.

The nonprofit says it searched 19 different locations to accommodate the construction of the indoor shelter. Organization officials say the location on South U Street is the perfect spot.

“'Move out of downtown, but don’t be close. Be far away,'” said Sharon Chapman with Next Steps, stating requests from the city. “I’m just telling you we are presenting the best option that we have.”

However, several residents in the area have voiced their opposition to those plans and have made petitions against the rezoning proposal.

“We really feel like there’s a better location," said Neil Cowne who lives near S. U Street. “What we would really like to see is them partner with the Hope Campus.”

The proposal is for a shelter for those facing homelessness that includes a kitchen, laundry, showers, outdoor pet space and housing on the 3.9 acres on S. U Street.

Next Step says this type of housing shouldn’t be in an industrial area, which is why the nonprofit wants to move from its current location on North 6th.

“We are offering you something that’s not a Band-Aid,” Chapman said. ‘We’re offering you something from an organization that’s provided successful housing.”

Residents and nearby business owners agree that something needs to be done to help the homeless population in Fort Smith, but fear that moving the shelter from downtown will only bring trouble to the area.

“Worried about them maybe needing money or something and break into facilities or steal things out of cars or something like that,” said Ms. Torrance, a nearby business owner. “For the majority, most of us are not interested in having it go in.”

City Director Andre Good is asking people to look at the bigger picture. 

“This is an opportunity for us to have our neighbors not living on the street if they don’t have to,” Good said.

The board will meet again on Feb. 1 to possibly vote on this proposal.

Stay with 5NEWS for updates on this developing story.

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