Conway transitional housing program to start in late 2023

Low-income and homeless individuals will be able to live for two years at Hope Village, a project of City of Hope Outreach

By: - December 29, 2022 8:00 am

Dr. Phillip Fletcher of Hope Village at his organization’s facility in Conway. Hope Village is a low-income temporary housing program that plans to start in 2023. (John Sykes/Arkansas Advocate)

Phillip Fletcher knew he had to start working on a transitional housing program in Conway after his friend Gary Harrison died in January 2016.

Fletcher is the executive director of City of Hope Outreach, a community development organization he founded in 2007. Harrison lived in a trailer with a roommate, and they had a portable heater to keep them warm in the winter.

“You shouldn’t have portable heaters in mobile home trailers, especially old ones, and it caught fire and he died,” Fletcher said.

The need for transitional housing for low-income and homeless individuals was already clear to Fletcher after two other community organizations in Conway tried to open emergency shelters in 2015 and “were met with resistance” by private interests, he said.

Fletcher spent 2016 fundraising for Hope Village, a neighborhood of 10 small houses he expects to be finished and ready for their first residents by November 2023. Individuals and veterans who are low-income or experiencing homelessness will be eligible to live in the houses for about two years before moving to a permanent residence, Fletcher said.

Hope Village residents will be able to receive mental and physical health care covered by a grant, as well as financial education and employment support, Fletcher said.

“We’ll help them get to what we call human flourishing, where individuals can thrive here, and once they finish the program after two or two and a half years, we’ll help them get into more permanent housing,” he said.

Five one-bedroom houses are under construction at the upcoming Hope Village in Conway. One will house an on-site case manager for the residents of the village. (Courtesy of Rik Sowell Architects)

Fletcher announced the Hope Village initiative in 2017 while celebrating City of Hope Outreach’s 10th anniversary, and the organization bought the land for the houses in 2018. He enlisted Rik Sowell Architects to design the houses, but the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 delayed the entire project, Fletcher said.

Now the 10 houses’ foundations sit next door to the City of Hope Outreach office on East Robins Street. Five houses will be 490 square feet and have one bedroom, and the other five will be 640 square feet and have two bedrooms. Each house will have room for a single parking space, architect Rik Sowell said.

Sowell and his team kept the design of the homes as simple as possible in case they would be built with volunteer labor, he said. The houses will be “fairly minimal” but big enough for residents to be comfortable, Sowell said.

“You hear about tiny houses all the time, and tiny houses are extremely small,” he said. “You might have 300 feet or less in some of those, and to me they don’t seem very livable. These are actually large enough to get a real bed, a dining table and a sofa and chairs.”

Continuum of care

A case manager will live in one of the one-bedroom houses, while the rest of the structures should house about 30 people, Fletcher said. He learned the value of an on-site case manager from another City of Hope Outreach initiative, the Hope Home transitional house for men, he said.

“It’s good to have somebody who is there, present, being able to address the needs and concerns of the men that are staying at the Hope Home, so we’re duplicating that effort at Hope Village,” Fletcher said.

The five two-bedroom homes at Hope Village will house families seeking permanent housing after a roughly two-year stay. (Courtesy/Rik Sowell Architects)

Hope Home residents usually live there from 12 to 15 months, Fletcher said.

Current resident Curtis Williams said he appreciates that Hope Village will be an option if he needs further housing assistance in late 2023.

Williams is currently staying at Hope Home for the second time. His first stint there helped him get custody of his two children, who are now adults, and live in a three-bedroom apartment for a while, he said.

“I fell on my face financially, so I’m back here again building up a savings in a bank account [until] I can go back out and be productive in society once again,” Williams said. “I just want to work on myself and build myself up wherein I can move, and then the next person can come in and have the same opportunity as me.”

City of Hope Outreach also has a homelessness prevention program that helps people and families avoid eviction when they are at risk of it, according to the organization’s website.

Although it will be about three years until Hope Village’s residents move out of the houses and into a more permanent living situation, other local organizations such as Conway Ministry Center, Bethlehem House and United Way of Central Arkansas will be ready to assist with the transition due to their longstanding working relationships with City of Hope Outreach, Fletcher said. The groups make up the Faulkner County Homeless Coalition and meet monthly to discuss how to address “larger issues beyond each organization’s individual capacity,” he said.

Each group meets a different need in the “continuum of care,” Fletcher said, and he is excited to see Hope Village expand City of Hope Outreach’s transitional housing work. Alleviating homelessness requires more than just giving people temporary shelter, he said.

“We need a variety of ways to help people get off the street, help understand what their needs are and over time move them and their families to a place where they’re contributing in ways that are fruitful to themselves and society,” he said.

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Tess Vrbin
Tess Vrbin

Tess Vrbin came to the Advocate from the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, where she reported on low-income housing and tenants' rights, and won awards for her coverage of 2021 flooding and tornado damage in rural Arkansas. She previously covered local government for The Commercial Dispatch in Mississippi and state government for the Columbia Daily Tribune in Missouri.