A national organization has named Little Rock the nation’s “meanest” city toward the homeless — ranking it above Atlanta, Los Angeles and New York.
Little Rock’s mayor disputed the designation by the Washington-based National Coalition for the Homeless, calling it an effort to gain publicity from the opening of the Clinton Presidential Library.
“I think they’ve ignored the facts and the things we have worked on in the last several years, the money we’ve put into the homeless,” said Mayor Jim Dailey, who attended a groundbreaking for a homeless shelter earlier Tuesday.
Homeless advocates said the designation was timed in part to deter the city from conducting a police sweep of homeless people before the library’s Nov. 18 opening.
“I think this will help raise the profile of the issue. We want to help stop homeless sweeps in cities when there are big events,” said Michael Stoops, director of community organizing for the national coalition.
Following Little Rock on this year’s list of meanest cities were Atlanta, Cincinnati, Las Vegas, Gainesville, Fla., New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Honolulu and Austin, Texas.
Plans to remove homeless
Stoops said Little Rock topped this year’s list because of policies that included plans to remove homeless from camps along the banks of the Arkansas River.
A recent study by the University of Arkansas at Little Rock found 200 to 300 homeless people are unsheltered at any given time and another 2,000 stay in shelters in a four-county central Arkansas area, which includes Pulaski County. Little Rock, the county seat, is developing a 10-year plan to end chronic homelessness.
The city has since backed off of those plans, and city leaders said the city only enters the camps when a homeless person is accused of a crime.
Construction of the Clinton Library displaced dozens of homeless who had camped in the vacant lot and its adjoining river bank. Skip Rutherford, president of the Clinton Presidential Foundation, said the city is working to improve conditions for the homeless.
“We want to be like any group who is part of downtown. We want to be part of a solution,” he said.