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NWA editorial: Anything will help

But 7 Hills really needs major benefactors

Is it really a surprise that an organization to aid the homeless in Northwest Arkansas is itself coming up on the short side of financial stability?

The homeless are, generally speaking, quite used to being ignored, so doesn't it make sense a local nonprofit striving to get people out of the woods and on track toward improved lives would face some of the same challenges?

What’s the point?

As 7 Hills Homeless Center struggles financially, it needs an outpouring of giving.

A little over a week ago, reporter Dan Holtmeyer detailed the difficulties of the 7 Hills Homeless Center in Fayetteville. The center since 2001 has tried to serve as a bridge between hope and those who experience an unexpected path toward economic uncertainty, substance abuse, mental illness, physical abuse or any of the other afflictions that contribute to the threat of or actual loss of housing.

Now, just as at other times in the 16-year life of the organization, 7 Hills faces its own uncertain future. The bottom line is the bottom line, really. The organization's leaders have worked to shore up philanthropic support for its services, which range from providing showers, food and clothing to referring people for medical support to giving people the skills they need to get their lives back on track.

A major hurdle lay ahead: In 2013, 7 Hills needed a home for its homeless center. It purchased a property on South School Avenue in Fayetteville under favorable purchase terms in which a future balloon payment was a prominent feature. Now, the organization must pay about $325,000 it owes by the start of June. It's money 7 Hills does not have.

Meanwhile, homelessness is growing. The region's economic fortunes draw people in search of their own piece of success, and yet it doesn't always work out. Even a strong economic tide doesn't lift every ship. Sometimes, people at the margins can simply be washed away.

And let's be honest here: Many people would love for the homeless to just go away, especially now that they're more visible on street corners holding those Supreme Court-protected cardboard signs saying "Anything will help." Let's go for a little more honesty: The homeless aren't going anywhere, particularly if they are left unassisted.

Even as generous as people in Northwest Arkansas generally prove to be, the response to the homeless is typically far different than, say, a request to fund a children's hospital or to expand a library. When's the last time anyone has heard of a "naming opportunity" related to the homeless? Those other projects are extraordinarily worthwhile and, shall we say, sexier than giving money to aid the homeless. Yet the need remains undiminished. It just seems like compassion sometimes runs out when it comes to the homeless.

Complicating things even further is this: Taking care of 7 Hills' financial obligations won't "solve" homelessness in Northwest Arkansas. It will, of course, render assistance to an organization deeply involved in day-to-day care and guidance of homeless people, and that's a kind of generosity one can be proud of. But 7 Hills leaders say the region desperately needs a regional network and plan to address homelessness in all its forms, from the man on the street to the middle-schooler who is sleeping on someone's couch, unsure about how long that situation will last.

This is not just Fayetteville's problem. Indeed, it can be said with some veracity that the people, government and churches of Fayetteville have responded to the plight of the homeless more than any community in the region, but they're not alone. Nonprofit groups offering help for domestic violence victims or those who have suffered sexual abuse or children in neglect situations provide some support for populations at high risk of becoming homeless.

But 7 Hills has been at the forefront, offering assistance for all who have no permanent home. Losing that organization would be a hit from which it will be hard to recover.

Northwest Arkansas is a land of great wealth. It's also a place in which great poverty continues. Philanthropic efforts to help people avoid sinking into hunger and homelessness are commendable. But the support for 7 Hills has fallen short of the demand. The expense of doing what it does extends beyond the organization's means.

What's the way out? In this instance, it really does rely on giving. Providing assistance to the homeless and those on the verge of being homeless will never be a self-supporting enterprise. So giving counts, and as with all nonprofit endeavors, all giving counts.

What 7 Hills really needs is one or two major benefactors who care deeply about the plight of those in need, who understand that people can hardly get back on a healthy path when they are uncertain about where they're going to sleep tonight or next week. Benefactors whose hearts are filled by knowing they're changing lives are are in desperate need of opportunities for change.

Who is ready to take up that call? 7 Hills is still looking.

Commentary on 04/18/2017

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