George Bowman, 65, had few options when he became a client at Jericho Way about three years ago.
“I was in prison,” he said, then became homeless. “I came to Jericho Way for some help … God just blessed me.”
Today, the center is working with the Little Rock Housing Authority to find him a place to live, he said while mopping the floor in the kitchen June 14. Cleaning is a way for him to give back to the center that has helped him in many ways.
This is just one story out of countless individuals who walk into Jericho Way, a homeless day resource center in Little Rock run by the Catholic nonprofit Depaul USA. In a world where people often divert their eyes to those holding cardboard signs, leaders at Jericho Way look square in the eyes of those that need help. While the center is not a shelter, not a cure-all for every homeless person, it fills in the gaps, from laundry services to career advice, to help people back on their feet and bring awareness to a state that last year had a documented 2,463 homeless, according to HUD’s 2016 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress.
Mandy Davis, director of Jericho Way who took over for Sister Elizabeth Greim, DC, who left in the spring, said they saw an average of 193 clients a day in April. This is a slow uptick from the normal 150 or so a day in the past.
“I think it’s just the sheer number of people that are learning about us; we’re doing more stories, we’re getting more publicity,” she said. “More people are talking about the services we provide, which is a good thing so more people come through our doors.”
The nonprofit, which provides a variety of services including meals, laundry, showers, counseling and housing referrals, has tried to diversify who it reaches out to for sponsorship, including getting more faith communities involved in both volunteering and donations. Though Depaul USA is Catholic, no one is ever pressured to convert.
“That’s not just Catholic — those values, the values of integrity, serving with dignity, those are my personal values, and I don’t go to church every Sunday, I’m not a member of any church,” Davis said.
Janet Nelson, volunteer coordinator, said they always need volunteers, even if it’s someone to sit at the front as a greeter for an hour.
“I think what helps motivate a lot of people are the verses in Matthew,” about feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, Nelson said.
Davis said everyone has a moral obligation to help those living below the poverty line.
“We cannot continue to ignore that exists and so when volunteers come here and they serve at Jericho Way, they are transformed,” she said.
Homeless advocates have been vocal lately after Little Rock city manager Bruce Moore presented an ordinance to city board members May 9 that would restrict feeding meals to more than 25 people in a city park and allowing it only twice a year in the same park. Originally, according to the Arkansas Times, the draft required a $500 refundable security deposit, which was subsequently dropped to $100. On May 16, the proposal was tabled for 45 days giving time for a commission coprising homeless advocates, business leaders and city employees to look closer at the issue.
Jericho Way feeds the homeless at their center rather than going out, Davis said. Last year, the center served 46,541 meals. Since January, they have served 10,722. Davis said she cannot know the impact the ordinance would have on Jericho Way, if any, but that one of the suggestions by the commission has been to set up feeding behind the center, located at 3000 Springer Boulevard. Though this is just one option being discussed, the distance from downtown Little Rock, the lack of parking and the hours of Jericho Way — 7:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., Monday to Friday — would make it difficult.
“There’s really only two options for that — that the city did that or the groups that are feeding did that on their own. Or that the city renegotiated the contract with Depaul USA, because we would need after-hours staff, security, the pavilion itself,” Davis said. “This is city property so if the city wanted to do that and it didn’t take Depaul staff, then they’re free to do that.”
The dangers of being homeless also took center stage with the drowning death of a homeless woman.
On May 9, Terry Coffey, 36, who was sleeping in a tent with her husband Neil at Rock Creek in west Little Rock, was found dead behind Cleo’s Furniture on West Markham Street. According to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Coffey disappeared April 30 when floodwaters quickly rose in their tent and both were swept away. Neil Coffey was pulled to safety by nearby residents who spotted him in the water.
Davis said it’s an “extremely tragic loss of life” and that the homeless face dangerous circumstances every day.
“I don’t think that the average individual is ever going to understand just how vulnerable it is to be homeless, including myself,” Davis said. The most common crimes against the homeless that they have seen include robbery, rape, extortion, identity theft and elder abuse, Davis said.
Because the average age of their clients is between 40 and 64, poor health is also another danger they face. Nelson said she once asked Sister Elizabeth why there are so many homeless that come in with wheelchairs and walkers.
“She said because think about it — if you slept on the sidewalk, your body is going to wear out faster, which is true,” Nelson said.
In March, Jericho Way client Frank Knight died of stage 4 colon cancer. The center partnered with other organizations, including Catholic Charities of Arkansas, to help him in his final days. Patrick Gallaher, director of Catholic Charities of Arkansas, said they helped arrange housing for him near CHI St. Vincent in Little Rock and helped fund some of the stay. Father Erik Pohlmeier, diocesan director of faith formation, ministered to Knight leading up to his death. He converted to Catholicism and received Communion and anointing of the sick. A Mass of Christian Burial was held at Our Lady of the Holy Souls Church in Little Rock and he was buried at Calvary Cemetery.
“It is on our to-do list, our Matthew 25 checklist — helping the homeless and the ill and burying the dead,” Gallaher said. “We work as closely as we can with Jericho Way, as well as many, many other organizations. There are things we do to help each other.”
Through this assistance, Jericho Way was able to “provide dignity in death because he didn’t get it in life,” Davis said.
Jericho Way’s money and time goes to help those like Glen Graham, 53, who has volunteered for about two years at the center and will be applying soon for a maintenance position at Jericho Way. He currently lives at Our House, a shelter for the working homeless in Little Rock, and said he lived for about six months on the streets after a death in the family.
“I faced a lot of challenges,” he said, adding that the general public does not understand that depression, various mental disorders or it could be family or work struggles that cause homelessness.
“They feel rejected, like no one cares,” Graham said when people ignore the homeless.
But Jericho Way has given him a fresh start.
“It gives you a sense of responsibility. You feel more confident about yourself and it helps your self-esteem,” Graham said.
Davis said people who volunteer never expect to “mentor adults that might be broken” but it inevitably happens, which is “really Catholic and really cool and really human.”
“They’re not just giving that person a tray. They’re starting a conversation with that person that never would have otherwise happened. And people need people,” Davis said. “Sure they need that meal, but that relationship they just formed over the course of the month with that guy from Holy Souls (Church), that’s important. And that’s what we do at Jericho Way. It’s a space for those conversations to happen.”
For volunteer opportunities or to find out what donations are needed, contact Mandy Davis at , Janet Nelson at or call (501) 916-9859.
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