HOT SPRINGS – Hot Springs has a housing crisis that has been illuminated by the covid-19 pandemic, something that Kim Carter, executive director of Cooperative Christian Ministries and Clinic, is trying to help solve.
One of the groups of people who have been struggling since the pandemic began is the people of ALICE, Carter said.
“ALICE is limited assets, limited income, employees,” she said. “It’s not a good term, but we call them the working poor. They don’t make enough money to live on. We hear the term paycheck to paycheck, and these people, the people who fall into ALICE, they’re kind of always a little late.”
Carter said this population has been “completely kicked” due to the pandemic, and it’s not just affecting tenants.
“We still had landlords who had to pay mortgages on their properties, so we became a bridge between those struggling people and the people providing the services,” she said.
“So we’ve worked with landlords; we’ve worked with utility companies. We’ve become much more aware, and I think the media has started to become more aware, of people in that situation.”
The housing crisis is not something new, Carter said, but it has been an ongoing problem for many years.
“The housing crisis has been around for a while,” she said. “It probably goes back to 2008 where we saw builders go bankrupt. We saw fewer houses. We saw that the price increase and then covid was right – it was more than icing on the cake. It was this flood that happened.”
According to United Way’s United for ALICE website, Arkansas has the eighth highest percentage of households below the ALICE threshold at 46%, tied with Florida. Louisiana and Mississippi are the top two states with 51% and 50% respectively.
One thing CCMC is doing to try and help families in this situation in Garland County is offering a “Bridges Out of Poverty” workshop, which strives to help individuals move from poverty to poverty. self-sufficiency. Carter said the organization is revamping the workshop to better help those in the classes.
“We developed new trainings and we looked at poverty on this continuum,” she said. “There are remarkable markers on this continuum, and one of them is chronic homelessness. Another will be the people living in this ALICE population. These are clearly defined income guidelines. We have the poverty levels feds that are adjusted slightly every year, and those are service qualifiers for certain types of things like that.”
Carter said she was happy to see the West Central Arkansas Planning and Development District gearing up to do a housing study in Hot Springs.
“It’s one of those top downs where we have people coming in and taking objective action…” she said. “They look, they make plans: ‘What do we have? What can we do?’ We are excited to see the work that will come out of this study, and Andrew Coker of West Central Planning & Development, he has been instrumental in getting some of it to the board.”
People tend to be “homogeneous in our gathering,” Carter said, and “gather with people who look like us, live like us, worship like us, have similar values. It’s typical human behavior, but when we have big problems to solve, we all have to step out of our comfort zones.”
She said people need “to start conversations and relationships, to go to areas where people are served, where you know work is being done, where you’re likely to find people different from you. I think that’s one of the key things, and in Hot Springs we have so many opportunities to do that.”
Carter suggested volunteering at schools or helping area nonprofits as ways to help those hurting due to the housing crisis.
A significant issue facing families in the ALICE population is childcare, she said.
“The biggest barrier to people’s employment is child care,” she said. “We have a lack of open spaces for child care in Hot Springs. That’s another thing that there’s a shortage of. Whether people can afford it or not, there just isn’t lots of openings. And then when you add the price to that, so we’re lucky to have Head Starts and Early Head Starts.
“We’re lucky to have programs, but those programs fill up quickly.”
There are also those struggling with the “crisis of poverty”, Carter said, which stems from unforeseen circumstances. She noted that she had recently been contacted by a self-employed person who had a medical condition that prevented her from working.
“They can’t work right now because of critical health issues,” she said. “And that person is at risk of being evicted because they can’t pay their rent. … There are these situations where — whether people ended up in their homes through some crazy circumstance, like a medical event, or they made bad choices that led to this and we also know those people, or it’s usually a combination of two things – we see people in difficult circumstances every day.”
She said people often refer to having to “lift themselves up by their boots”, but often people struggling with poverty “don’t have boots; they’re in flip flops”.
“Part of our goal here at CCMC is to provide the resources necessary for them to take the next steps,” Carter said.
“I tell people several times a week, ‘I’m not going to work harder than you. It’s your life. You have to make choices, but I can put a banquet or resources in front of you.'”