Shelter helps people find jobs and save money toward a home of their own
PARAGOULD - Few things can have a more adverse effect on the mental and physical health of an individual or a family than to be homeless. It creates a profound sense of insecurity and often homeless people have difficulty obtaining healthy meals and having access to healthcare.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development estimated that there were 2,467 homeless people in Arkansas in 2017. In Arkansas, many smaller communities don't have shelters to house the homeless until they can find housing.
A beacon of light in the situation is the Mission Outreach Northeast Arkansas (NEA) in Paragould, a 58-bed emergency home shelter that has been in operation for 36 years.
Mission Outreach NEA Director Cheri Peters said the problem with homelessness is particularly bad in the winter when it is really cold, and in the summer when it is really hot. The shelter is able to provide not just beds, but has an onsite food kitchen that serves meals 365 days of the year.
"You are looking at folks with poor nutrition, which affects health, obviously," Peters said. "Fortunately, we don't have that happen here because we have a food kitchen. We also have an onsite food pantry for low- to moderate-income families who can receive a food box once a month."
Because they have the largest homeless shelter in Northeast Arkansas, they end up providing shelter to people not just from Paragould, but Jonesboro, the Boothill area of Missouri and even from Little Rock because the shelters in those areas are often at capacity.
There is a major focus on helping the homeless find jobs.
"There is no shortage of jobs here in Paragould," Peters said. "One of the big focuses at our shelter is giving people two or three weeks to get a job. We have a case manager who provides them with the resources they need to obtain employment. We provide transportation to get to work. Once they get employment, they are required to save 75 percent of their earnings that go toward getting them in an apartment or a house. Sometimes people don't know all the resources that are out there for them. The reason we have a case manager here is to help them with their applications. Those applications for free or reduced government housing can be complicated, so she is here to help with that."
Mission Outreach NEA partners with temp employment agencies and with Goodwill, which has a work program.
Peters said her job is very rewarding.
"We have successes and then we have failures," Peters said. "But the majority of them do stick with it and maintain employment. We don't have a time frame like only being able to stay 30 days like some shelters. You can't get people on their feet in 30 days. The maximum you can stay in our shelter is two years. But most people find affordable or government housing and employment well before that."
Common causes of homelessness are addiction and mental illness. There are also single mothers, sometimes victims of domestic violence, and elderly people who simply have trouble making ends meet.
Mission Outreach NEA has dorms for men, women and three dorms for families. Not all homeless shelters have accommodations for families, and that can be a big help. Single mothers, in particular, can often find it difficult to make enough money to pay for housing, child care and other expenses.
"Family housing is very important to provide," Peters said.
Mission Outreach NEA is a non-profit organization that depends on donations and grants to meet operating expenses.
"Obviously, financial donations are critical," Peters said. "We also need donations of non-perishable food goods."
How can you help?
More information is available at http://missionoutreachnea.com/