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Homeless Vets on Main

In Arkansas, politicians—including Tim Griffin and Mayor Stodola—and neighborhood associations are colluding to keep the VA from enlarging a veterans treatment center to serve homeless veterans. The director of the center, which helps mainly black veterans, sees it as a racist move, which doesn't serve a city best known for the Little Rock Nine.

CHEREE FRANCO

CHEREE FRANCO

Vets on Main 

Downtown residents fight to block a clinic that helps homeless veterans.

ARKANSAS TIMES

On any given day inside the VA Drop-in Day Treatment Center — a single-story cinderblock building at Second and Ringo that serves homeless veterans — about two dozen men cram around a mammoth table, filling a tiny activities room. Knees bump, and those with early spring colds duck their heads, respectfully coughing into their hands. Plastic dividers separate the room from reception, but they do nothing to block the din.

The VA center desperately needs more space. Between the hours of 7:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m., 22 social workers, three administrative staffers and 40 to 60 veterans wedge into a tight 3,000 square feet. Doors open partially before slamming into desks in closet-sized offices that serve multiple employees. VA workers often see individual clients in the same room, making confidentiality a long-abandoned concept. Meals are served in three shifts, supplies are stored off-site and expanded service plans, such as a primary care medical clinic, have been indefinitely shelved.

The VA center moved into its current building in 1996, with a staff of seven. Less than a decade later, VA officials were actively scouring the city's abandoned properties for a bigger space. In 2007 they came close to leasing the former Roy Rogers Auto Parts building across from the Salvation Army shelter on Markham Street. But the Capitol Zoning Commission, under pressure from Mayor Mark Stodola and the Downtown Neighborhood Partnership, opposed the move. In a letter to the Capitol Zoning Commission dated Oct. 24, 2007, Stodola wrote: "As you know, there is a renewed emphasis on residential and commercial development in this area, and I believe this facility will hamper continued investment along this corridor ... I hope the commission will reject this [zoning] application."

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