Plan withdrawn for controversial homeless shelter in Fort Smith

by Tina Alvey Dale ([email protected]) 1,177 views 

The Next Step Day Room (NSDR) rescinded it’s request for a zoning change that would have allowed it move operations from North Sixth Street to South U Street. That move was announced at the Fort Smith Board of Directors regular board meeting Tuesday (Feb. 15).

The matter was originally presented to the board Jan. 4 at a regular meeting. It was tabled at that time to allow the board to discuss the matter during the Jan. 25 board study session. Prior to that study session, board members sent numerous questions to Sharon Chapman, NSDR executive director, who answered all those and more during the study session.

The city’s planning department held a neighborhood meeting Jan. 31, which was attended by more than 40 people speaking both for and against the move.

The matter was then put on the board’s Feb. 1 regular meeting, but was again tabled in order to allow residents and directors more time to digest all the information presented Jan. 25.

At the original presentation Jan. 4, NSDR planned to continue day and emergency services at the new location. However, at the study session, Chapman said the new facility would not have an emergency day shelter like the facility at 123 N. Sixth St. Chapman said taking into consideration the concerns of residents near the South U Street property, the NSDR board had decided to pivot the organization toward a “housing centric approach to solving homelessness.”

The new facility would have 20 individual units (tiny houses) for non-congregant houses. Each unit would have heat, air conditioning, electricity and a bed. Residents would have access to showers, meals, and laundry facilities seven days a week, the NSDR plan states.

Along with stopping programs that caused the most concern among opponents to the move, Chapman said those seeking residency at the shelter would have to fill out an application and pass a background check and residents would be required to sign a commitment agreement that they would not use areas up the hill behind the facility as a transportation corridor and would stay out of that neighborhood. Even so, Susan Cowne said at the Jan. 21 neighborhood meeting that 280 people have signed a petition against the rezoning. Areas residents raised concerns that the new shelter would lower home values and raise crime.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Susan Tate, representing NSDR, said the non-profit board decided to withdraw the request because it would do their clients no good to be in a place where they would be met so much hostility.