Serving the homeless community within central Arkansas is a complicated, multi-faceted undertaking requiring teamwork among several groups with specific skill sets. That’s where the CATCH (Central Arkansas Team Care for the Homeless) organization comes together as a problem-solving collective.
“Each of the organizations represented in CATCH serve our homeless community in one way or another,” Women and Children First Executive Director Angela McGraw says. “However, we all have our area of expertise, which is why it is important to team up. One organization cannot be the expert on everything, but together we can provide a more holistic approach.”
Founded in 1995, CATCH is a nonprofit member organization that strives to empower homeless “clients” and help those at risk of becoming homeless by pointing them to housing and services that meet their needs. Currently made up of more than 70 agencies, CATCH covers a four-county area of central Arkansas that includes Pulaski, Lonoke, Prairie and Saline counties.
CATCH President Matthew DeSalvo says the first step is pinpointing what factors play a role in someone becoming unhoused.
“We hear about the root causes of homelessness, which range from an emergency situation to gut-wrenching emotional stories of trauma, abuse, substance abuse issues and abandonment,” DeSalvo says. “We have a deep knowledge of systemic issues that are leading to issues of poverty and homelessness, and we always attempt to be trauma-informed and client-centered in our approach.”
DeSalvo also serves as the director of social service for the Central Arkansas Area Command branch of The Salvation Army and says the organization is involved in more than just the holiday activities for which they are known.
“We offer a robust shelter program, we help more than 450 households each year with rent and utility assistance, we provide around 4,000 food boxes each year and we have expansive case management services,” DeSalvo says. “We serve around 30,000 meals a year and are working on funding an intensive outreach case management program that would be the first of its kind in central Arkansas.”
The Centers for Youth and Families also tries to be proactive by addressing many of the factors leading to homelessness. Some of their services include screening and diagnostic treatment, mental and behavioral health care and substance abuse treatment. The Centers also provide high-quality inpatient and outpatient treatment, therapeutic foster care and houses a nationally recognized human trafficking treatment program, as well as referrals for primary health care, job training, educational services and housing.
Our House Executive Director Ben Goodwin says multi-organization collaboration is necessary to meet all the needs in the area because the demands are greater than what a single organization can handle on its own.
“It can also be rejuvenating, encouraging and helpful to spend time with others who do similar work, experience similar challenges and frustrations and have insights and best practices to share,” Goodwin says.
Our House also serves families with children and brings that perspective to CATCH conversations.
“A few years ago, Our House started maintaining resource guides that try to quickly summarize all the services available for the homeless community,” Goodwin says. “It covers the areas of housing, mental health services, substance abuse treatment and child care. We keep these guides updated because we use them ourselves when working with clients.”
Immerse Arkansas Executive Director Eric Gilmore says his organization brings insight into the youth homelessness crisis to CATCH meetings.
“With limited community housing and age-appropriate options for shelter, many young people are forced to live on the streets or bounce around unsafe living conditions,” Gilmore says. “We know that young people face unique and heightened needs, yet are often overlooked and under-sourced. Immerse is the only organization currently represented in CATCH that works specifically with ages 14-24 facing housing insecurities.”
Earlier this year, Immerse Arkansas broke ground on “The Station,” the state’s first shelter specifically designed for youth ages 18-24. It is set to open next summer.
“Located just a quarter of a mile from our youth center, The Station will be equipped with 15 suites, providing young people with their own bedroom and bathroom, as well as access to one-on-one coaching, therapy, mentorship and more,” Gilmore says. “Collaboration with other providers through CATCH will be instrumental in ensuring that youth are able to access quality resources when they need it most.”
Women and Children First brings another important topic to the CATCH table.
“Through the years, there has been much debate on whether a person staying at a domestic violence shelter is considered homeless or not, but the truth is, they are,” McGraw says. “The insight and experience WCF brings [to CATCH] is knowing there is a high number of women and children who are homeless because of domestic violence. This can be helpful when assisting someone who is homeless because they’re a victim of domestic violence with safety planning, obtaining an order of protection and just helping them with that traumatic exposure to their unhealthy home.”
Looking ahead, CATCH has various projects in the pipeline and is optimistic about the future of its mission. Two new tiny home initiatives for unhoused locals, Immerse Arkansas’ new shelter and Our House’s expanded campus and services are all slated to open in 2024 alone.
“I also hope to use our platform to grow our legislative advocacy outreach and get policymakers to hear our heart, the needs of those we serve and the data behind the needs and plans so they can pass policies that will be mutually beneficial for all, including the most vulnerable Arkansans,” DeSalvo says.
Wait lists are currently too long to meet the needs of the community, which only raises the importance of advocating for more affordable, safe housing. And even within operating shelters, elements such as the intentionality of donations can make a huge impact on keeping things running smoothly.
“People who come into WCF often come in with nothing,” McGraw says. “Other people often think clothes are all that we need, and we do appreciate that, but the even greater need is for essential, everyday household items.”
Goodwin says correcting misunderstandings and addressing stereotypes will go a long way in overcoming this community crisis.
“I wish more people knew how motivated our clients are to work their way out of homelessness and what great things they are capable of if they get the right support,” Goodwin says, noting the many ways the community can support CATCH. “We need more donors to support our work — most people are surprised to learn that there aren’t more government funding sources for serving the homeless, and Our House and many other agencies we work with are a majority privately funded. We need more volunteers to come get directly involved in our work and meet for themselves the great people we work with every day.”
“We believe that when we surround youth with unconditional relationships, a vision for their restored future and tools that anticipate their needs and dreams, we create a climate for healing, growth and transformation,” Gilmore says. “The work we do is only possible with the support of a community of donors, volunteers and mentors. From bringing meals, hosting holiday celebrations, mentoring youth or giving to support the mission, there are so many ways to get connected and make an impact.”
Learn more at catcharkansas.org.