Mayor Townsell and City Council,
Thank you for serving the city of Conway in your respective elected offices. As men and women elected to represent the men and women of our city, you participate collectively to ensure all persons who reside within our city have the opportunity to flourish in a variety of manners. This is a level of power which has consequences for all.
On Tuesday August 25, 2015 you once again have the opportunity to make a decision which will impact the ability for a demographic of our city to participate in our beautiful city. Last month, I was saddened as a city leadership none of you took the opportunity to vocalize support for the opening of the Ministry Center to offer crisis housing for persons experiencing homelessness. As our mayor and city council each of you have a measure of power to aid all types of persons in our city. I have observed as a council your use of power to advocate for others in the past and I had hoped this same powerful compassion would have manifested itself in July. Needless to say, it did not occur. Now you have the opportunity to once again use your power to protect opportunities for groups to act compassionately for the homeless in Conway.
The amendment to the Zoning Ordinance allowing shelters for the homeless by Conditional Use Permit in all zones were permitted represents an inappropriate approach to address homelessness in our city. The amendment represents an inappropriate approach as it creates a new burden for persons wanting to assist the homeless. As it stands right now, “a homeless shelter is allowed by right in the: C-1 (Central Business District) and TJ (Territorial Jurisdiction Zone)” (Lee Washington, Memo to City Council, July 21, 2015). If you pass this amendment all persons or organizations would be subjected to the same level of scrutiny the Ministry Center experienced. This opens up the strong possibility persons of economic influence will leverage their own power to see such compassionate works to not exist in their areas. Second this approach is inappropriate because a homeless shelter has no freedom to exist without conditions in the city. Similar accommodations are made for businesses, various types of housing, and industrial areas to open in specific zone without the process of applying for a conditional use permit. Why can’t homeless shelters be afforded the same freedom of opportunity in our city?
I challenge the city leadership with this question, “Where is it appropriate for persons of goodwill to open homeless shelters in the city of Conway?” I have consistently iterated to the in the past the necessity of the council to address all the needs of Conway residents. This city has a level of blessing with her growing colleges, commercial development of Central Landing and Lewis Crossing, and the various tech companies seeking to establish a foothold. Where it appears there is a lack of priority is in regards to our homeless persons. These men, women, and children deserve as much an opportunity to flourish and improve their situation as those who live on Round Mountain, West of Salem, or in Downtown Conway. These persons are not criminals and drug abusers as some have made the homeless to appear. Such notions are rooted in ignorance and fear. Persons who advance such opinions choose to stereotype an aspect of poverty rather than getting to know the individual in the situation of homelessness. I hope that none of you fall into this category.
So where do we go from here?
In conclusion, I would like to affirm each of you sit in seats of power to restrict or create greater opportunities of freedom for compassionate endeavors. The homeless are not your enemy or a virus to the economy of Conway. They are like you and I. Men, women, and children who want an opportunity to simply live and maybe one day sit in your seat. Maybe after years of getting settled and saving money a formerly homeless man we once feared becomes a student at UCA. Maybe after realizing she has a place a safety a formerly homeless woman is able to get a job at Blackwood’s Grill and have her own place. All of this is possible. With your measure of power each of you have the opportunity to create a better tomorrow for your homeless neighbor.
God bless each of you,