Gov. Asa Hutchinson gave Craighead County $1.6 million to build a mental health crisis center and Jonesboro Mayor Harold Perrin has been on a mission to open a homeless shelter in Northeast Arkansas.
Ridgecrest Healthcare has agreed to donate its defunct 24,700-square-foot facility on North Church Street to Homeless Ministries, a non-profit group in Jonesboro. HM will operate a homeless shelter in the building, and part of it will be dedicated to a 16-bed mental crisis center, Craighead County Sheriff Marty Boyd told Talk Business & Politics. He hopes the facility will be operational by January.
The county will be required to pay a $1 annual lease, and an agreement is in place for Mid-South Health to operate the center, and it will receive the $1.6 million Hutchinson dedicated to the pilot project. Mid-South will provide mental health professionals including psychiatrists, social workers, nurses, and others to treat those admitted, Mid-South Executive Director Ruth Allison Dover said. The center will serve 13 counties in NEA.
“It gives law enforcement another tool … we’ve been criminalizing mental health for too long,” Boyd said.
The project is the result of multiple public-private partnerships including Ridgecrest, city and county, HM, Mid-South, and the volunteers running Jonesboro’s HUB (Helping Underserved Belong). Completion of the deed transaction should take 30 to 60 days, Jonesboro Mayor Harold Perrin said.
Perrin appointed a Homeless Task Force two years ago. It created HUB to help deal with a rise in displaced residents. Perrin rides along with police officers on Friday nights and he often sees homeless people roaming the streets, he said.
“We do have an issue with our homeless here, there is no question about that,” he said.
How much it will cost to operate the homeless shelter and how many beds it will offer is still under review. The first step was to secure a building, Perrin said. The facility can accommodate up to 84 beds, and if 16 are used by the crisis center, than up to 68 would be available for the shelter. The city can’t dedicate money toward the project since it’s operated by a non-profit, but the city can seek grants on its behalf, he said.
Boyd pushed for Act 423 that passed the Arkansas Legislature this year, creating a means to initiate crisis stabilization units around the state. Hutchinson created four units statewide. Those selected for treatment will undergo up to 96 hours of treatment, and a post-treatment plan for their well-being will be developed, Dover said. It’s likely some will be placed in the homeless shelter, as many of these people don’t have families or stable homes, Boyd said.
“The crisis unit means we will no longer be treating mental illness as a crime,” Boyd said. “When we come in contact with individuals we deem in mental-health crisis, we can now divert them from jail and toward treatment.”
HM will largely operate off donations from local churches and the efforts of volunteers, Board Member Murl Smith said. The objective is to transform the people into productive members of society, he said. Three full-time employees will staff the shelter. Many finite details still have to be meted, he said.
“We are grateful to the mayor of Jonesboro and to the sheriff of Craighead County. Without them, I don’t think this would be happening,” HM interim director Danny Pridmore said.
The building will have to be repaired and renovated, Boyd said. How long it will take and how much it will cost will be tabulated in the coming weeks. Capital improvement funds from the county and city will be used to cover these repairs, he said. The center and shelter will be housed under one roof, but will be completely separate, he said.
Perrin emphasized the shelter is not a halfway house.
“I couldn’t be more excited about what this means for some of our most needy citizens,” Perrin said. “To have private partners step up with an offer like this just touches my heart.”