JONESBORO, Ark. – It was easy to sense the disappointment in the voice of Craighead County Sheriff Marty Boyd at the Joint Finance/Public Service Committee meeting Monday night for Craighead County.
In a live stream, provided courtesy of Craighead County Clerk Kade Holliday, Boyd said there was no plan B to build a homeless shelter and mental stabilization unit now that the nursing home option had been taken off of the table. “We have the grant,” Boyd said. “We have no place to go with it. We really don’t have a plan b as far as a plan b that can go operational.”
Boyd also said the county could lose its $1.6 million grant for the crisis stabilization center if another plan is not developed soon.
Ridgecrest Health Care announced on Sept. 28 it would donate its former nursing home building at 3016 North Church Street to Homeless Ministries of Jonesboro, Inc. The building would then be shared with Craighead County, who would have operated a mental health crisis intervention center inside of the building.
A vocal segment of the community derailed those plans. The opposition was also featured in several KAIT reports which inaccurately represented the vocal minority as the entire community.
Based on the feedback NEA Report received, the community was not pleased by this development.
“Actually, I think the community is overwhelmingly disappointed about not having this shelter and service center available to those who need it most,” wrote Amanda Stogsdill on NEA Report’s Facebook page.
“No, the community is not pleased,” wrote Gina Gunter Mills. “A few selfish people are pleased.”
“I think we should all support this,” wrote Emmie Marie Huffman.
The displeasure was also evident Monday night in Sheriff Boyd’s voice.
“The only option we have now is to possibly look at building on the grounds of the detention center, for that unit,” Boyd. “For several reasons – one – we own the property and two – little to no opposition there.”
There are several problems with this with the first being finding money to finance the construction, Boyd detailed.
“The downside of that is one – the cost,” Boyd said. “We were looking at a donation. The facility type it was, it was basically already fitted for our needs. It would have been minimal cost to refurbish the building. That’s one of the major deals we have to look at now – the cost of new construction.”
New construction is not cheap. For most counties in NEA, expansions onto the county jail have required the passage of a tax increase, such as in Baxter and Lawrence counties in recent years.
But there’s a human element to this route Boyd mentioned which deserves more attention than money. Boyd mentioned a pilot program, new to Arkansas this year, which aimed at giving short-term treatment to mentally ill individuals who are incarcerated on minor offenses. Boyd said he wants to deter the first-time arrest which so-often leads to recurring terms of incarceration for an individual. Having a mental crisis stabilization unit allows mentally ill to avoid jail in minor situations and at the same time, avoid the stigma of going to jail.
That’s not so easy when the unit is literally connected to the jail.
“It’s like, ‘We’re not going to put you in jail. We’re going to put you right next to it,'” Boyd said.
The Homeless Stigma
Jonesboro Public Schools Superintendent Kim Wilbanks emerged in the discussion as the most vocal opponent to the facility. In a Jonesboro Sun report, she was quoted as saying she was against it because leaders couldn’t assure her that it wouldn’t pose “a safety hazard” to the students at a school 3/4 of a mile from the nursing home.
One of her questions was where homeless people would go during the day, said the Sun report.
She raised several other hypothetical questions, such as the stability of the company operating it.
A statement released on Friday by Jonesboro Mayor Harold Perrin said he was saddened by the community’s inability to secure a facility to serve the homeless population.
“…People need to understand the Homeless Ministries of Jonesboro is not trying to create halfway houses that will endanger neighborhoods,” Perrin said. “They want to be Christian brothers and sisters to our less fortunate residents in their time of need.”
“I’m homeless but I’m not trash.”
A relevant video published on YouTube in September, 2015, aims to fight the negative stigma around being homeless.
As evidenced by some being concerned where the homeless people might go during the day, unfair stigmas played a role in the opposition to this facility.
Stan Morris Reporting