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Placement of homeless services at the center of debate in Fort Smith

The City of Fort Smith will host a special study session Thursday before making a decision on Next Step moving to S. 6th Street.

FORT SMITH, Ark. — Arguments for and against a proposed move of a downtown Fort Smith homeless center will be heard Thursday, April 14, at 6 p.m. at the Blue Lion in Fort Smith. The special study session will hear from neighbors and businesses regarding Next Step Homeless Services’ possible move along South I Street and South 6th Street in Fort Smith.

“This is in the area where the board has stated they want these types of social services to be located, but at the same time, they don’t want the businesses harmed,” said Fort Smith City Administrator Carl E. Geffken.

The vacant lot sits in an area of town the city would like social services, such as Next Step and Hope Campus, to be in operation. Hope Campus sits only a few blocks away from the proposed location.

Earlier this year, Next Step withdrew its bid to move to an empty lot off Towson Avenue and South U Street. A similar plan for housing and facilities could be coming to South 6th Street if the City of Fort Smith’s Board of Directors approves the move on Tuesday, April 19.

“We are going to try to build a facility that gives us an office space for all of our housing clients to come to for services, training, meetings and stuff like that, as well as open up a non-congregate housing area behind,” said Sharon Chapman, Executive Director of Next Step Homeless Services.

The four-acre lot will be fenced and will establish 30 individual housing units. Anyone who will live at the facility will be committing to working with caseworkers, sober-living, and willing to get back on their feet.

Before Next Step can take its next steps at providing more services to those in the community that needs them, they will have to work to convince the neighbors and surrounding businesses the move makes sense.

“We hope that we can assure them that we are not going to add any problems in the area because our facility will have no foot traffic. No one’s going to be coming there unless they live there,” said Chapman. “Hopefully, we’ll help the problem of the homelessness that are in camps all around the area. Over time, we hope that we can improve that situation.”

Thursday’s meeting will be open to the public for discussion.  The special study session will “let people speak their opinion but not let it become accusatory or problematic so (the board) can focus on what’s being said and not how it’s being said so facts and perceptions can come through,” Geffken said. 

The city will weigh all opinions before making its decision Tuesday, April 19.

RELATED: Fort Smith Directors looking to remove abandoned, asbestos-filled building off Kinkead Ave.

RELATED: Inclusive playground planned for Creekmore Park; homeless service plan again tabled

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