LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — City officials want to eradicate 27 homeless camps, getting their occupants into shelters or out of town as Little Rock prepares for the high-profile opening of the Clinton Presidential Library.
Officials deny that the strategy has anything to do with the Nov. 18 opening, but homeless advocates fear that the city is being merciless — perhaps at the behest of the library.
The homeless were living at the library site before construction began.
An annual satirical stage show put on by the Pulaski County Bar Association this week depicts Clinton library officials driving away helpless residents of the camps.
“The idea that we want to clean up the homeless because of the opening is simply not the case,” said Skip Rutherford, president of the nonprofit Clinton Foundation.
Mr. Rutherford said he is uncomfortable with the idea of displacing the homeless. He noted one man lived on the old railroad trestle that the library plans to turn into a pedestrian bridge across the Arkansas River.
The city began formulating a strategy to close 27 homeless encampments in the spring. City Manager Bruce Moore said the idea stemmed from Mayor Jim Dailey’s tour of a homeless shelter run by Little Rock Compassion Center.
“Clearly, as Little Rock continues to grow, with a variety of projects on the horizon, we want individuals who come here to feel safe, but we also want individuals in our community to feel safe,” Mr. Moore said.
“So there’s a tourism component of this strategy, but there’s more to it,” he said.
He said the city is working with the Department of Veterans Affairs to reach those who are eligible for benefits. The city’s board of directors created a task force last fall to look at the issue of chronic homelessness, Mr. Moore said.
Police Chief Lawrence Johnson said his department has been trying to handle the homeless camps for years.
The Little Rock Compassion Center’s director, Rosemary Holloway, says she supports aggressive efforts to clear out encampments because they tend to contain vagabonds and “professional panhandlers” — people whom she accused of having tendencies toward violence and drug addiction.