Two Thousand Too Many: Arkansas’s Failure to Protect its Homeless Population

By: Paige Topping

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this post are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect views of the Journal, the William H. Bowen School of Law, or UA Little Rock

For as long as I have been alive, homelessness has been treated as a political issue and has been shrouded in the false misconception that it is somehow the result of a personal choice. However, as the number of Americans experiencing homelessness has increased, especially since 2015, it has become increasingly clear that the crisis of homelessness is both a symptom and product of the government’s outright failure to protect its citizens. Thus, until the United States government and local governments begin to view homelessness as a social issue instead of an individual issue caused by poor personal choices, the crisis will only continue, and unsheltered citizens will continue to pay the price for the government’s failures.

The latter is not an option; considering that today, there are over 580,466 American citizens experiencing homelessness. While it may be convenient for citizens in smaller states and communities to let the media cast the blame for this increase on major cities, the reality is that every single state has contributed and continues to contribute to the rise in numbers we see today. In fact, even Arkansas, a state that has the seventh lowest percentage of homelessness, still has over 2,366 citizens that experience homelessness on a daily basis.

Importantly, “out of that total, 101 [are] family households, 188 [are] Veterans, 262 [are] unaccompanied young adults (aged 18-24), and 514 [are]  individuals experiencing chronic homelessness.” As if these numbers are not damaging enough on their own, they become even more disparaging in light of the fact that Arkansas does not have adequate shelters for 53.8% of its homeless population. In fact, 66% of unaccompanied young adults and 78% of individuals experiencing chronic homelessness in Arkansas are unsheltered and have nowhere to go. This is especially true in Little Rock, Arkansas’s capital city, due to the fact that the city does not recognize or provide any sanctioned campgrounds for its unsheltered citizens.

As a result of Arkansas’s outright failure to provide adequate shelter, or at the very least adequate sanctioned campgrounds, over a thousand Arkansans are left on their own to battle the elements. This is not only an extreme burden, but with Arkansas’s blistering heat, chilling temperatures, and propensity for severe storms and tornadoes, it can become a death sentence.

Ray Coleman, an Arkansas citizen who has battled chronic homelessness for the past four years, knows this threat all too well.  In an interview in 2021, during the record snowfall, Ray stated that,“Out here in the cold, you might not wake up.” This fear became a reality when Amanda and Ray Topf, an unsheltered married couple, froze to death during a winter storm in Arkansas just two months ago, in February 2022.

Despite this, and the many other deaths that are either swept under the rug or not reported, Arkansas has still not taken any steps toward ensuring that this extremely preventable tragedy does not occur again. Thus, until the Arkansas government wakes up and realizes that 2,366 homeless persons are two thousand are too many, Arkansas’s homeless population will continue to suffer and die at the hands of the government.

Posted in: Blog Posts, Legal Comentary

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