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Little Rock, activist spar over homeless camps

The city of Little Rock and the founder of an organization that serves the homeless are at odds again over the city's practice of posting eviction notices at sites of homeless camps when citizens make complaints.

Aaron Reddin, founder of The Van and co-chairman of the Arkansas Homeless Coalition, is known for his vocal opposition to city officials on issues related to the homeless. A year ago, he organized a protest at City Hall after the city's code enforcement staff posted about 10 notice-to-vacate signs at homeless camps last January.

Since that conflict, he negotiated an agreement with the city to be notified when such evictions were planned so his organization could organize to help the people move to a new location. The Van provides rides, food, clothing and sometimes emergency shelter during cold weather to people who live outdoors.

On Thursday, the city's homeless services advocate, Chris Porter, texted Reddin about two camps the city's Code Enforcement Division had received complaints about, and said the city would post eviction notices at those sites soon.

Reddin posted criticism on his personal Facebook page Friday.

"What if the city came to where YOU sleep in the middle of a dangerous winter cold snap and posted a sign telling YOU to move all YOUR stuff within 7 days or they would be back to trash it, knowing YOU had no means or options to do so? This s*** is sick," he wrote.

In a subsequent post he wrote, "While they could be using their resources to open emergency shelters for this cold snap, or supporting those organizations who do ... or just generally showing some d*** empathy, INSTEAD the City of Little Rock, AR - Government will be posting eviction notices on 2 homeless encampments today. The next person who suggests publicly or privately that we should be trying harder to work with this callous city regime is going to get unloaded on."

Porter said Friday that he had checked the campsites he informed Reddin about, and no one was at either. The city's policy is to send Porter to talk with residents of the camps before the Code Enforcement Divsion posts an eviction notice in response to a complaint received. The notice tells people they have seven days to leave.

Photos of the two camps showed trash strewn about, a tipped over grocery cart, beer cans and cigarette butts littering a wood carpenter's table, clothes hanging on a line to dry, a bicycle propped against a tree and a leather couch with a full trash bag next to it. There was also a lawn chair and a blue tarp set up as a tent.

The city was notified about the sites by the president of the St. Charles Neighborhood Association, who emailed City Director Lance Hines. She told him of an encampment off the Rock Creek Trail in her neighborhood near a part of the trail people call Graffiti Rock.

"Many residents walk back there and it has now become a safety concern," she wrote.

City Manager Bruce Moore asked the parks department and code enforcement staffs to work with Porter to address the matter. Moore informed the city Board of Directors that eviction notices would be posted at the camps Friday.

The city put out a news release Friday saying Porter tries to persuade people living at the camps to accept shelter options from local providers.

On Facebook, Reddin disregarded the city's response, saying Moore was putting his "spin" on the situation.

"Same s***, different year," Reddin wrote.

Then he said it was time for him to start posting his opinions on The Van's Facebook page because he could reach its 15,000 followers.

Porter said Friday that he was frustrated that people take information he gives them in an effort to work together and then use it to paint the city as a villain. He didn't name Reddin.

"People have their own agenda and don't want to work with others. There's a lot of that going on. I won't call names," Porter said.

"From the very start I've been trying to work with every service provider out there and business owners," he said. "But there are certain groups led by certain persons who just see the city as an enemy and everything as an opportunity to advance what they're doing, and the city is supposed to be the villain and that is just not so."

When asked about his online posts about the city, Reddin said he "absolutely" is calling the city a villain.

"This has been ongoing forever, and they know full well there is not adequate shelter space for all these people. I talked to a police officer today who last night couldn't get two people into any shelter in town. He paid out of his pocket for a hotel room and took another woman to a laundromat so she'd have somewhere to get out of the cold," Reddin said.

"The city keeps insisting there are services and space to go for everyone, and it's just absolutely not the case," he said. "They want to spin their community centers as warming shelters during the day, but do nothing to help people at night. They know this is the case, and we've told them over and over for years."

Porter said that when he meets with homeless people, some tell him they don't go to shelters because they can't take their pets, or they have post-traumatic stress disorder and don't want to be housed in a communal area, or they can't smoke after a certain hour.

He tries to work with them on their concerns, he said. The city's Animal Village will house people's pets during cold weather while they are at shelters, take care of the animals' medical issues for free and return the pets when the people leave the shelters.

Reddin said that instead of eviction notices, the city should authorize a sanctioned campground where service providers can set up a "tent city" of sorts as an immediate solution to homelessness while larger solutions are being worked on.

Other homeless advocates said they were satisfied with the city's response.

Sandra Wilson, founder of the Reach Out organization who also is a member of the Arkansas Homeless Coalition, said the issue was "resolved" because the city agreed to hold off on the evictions until the cold weather ended.

The Van has been working with two churches to open temporary emergency shelters from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. anytime the temperature reaches below 25 degrees overnight, or below 32 degrees when it is wet. They are at 2BC - A Different Kind of Baptist Church at 222 E. Eighth St. in downtown Little Rock and Levy Church at 5124 Camp Robinson Road in North Little Rock.

Metro on 01/13/2018

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