FORT SMITH, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — Tents are popping up around Fort Smith as homeless camps.
Executive Director of Next Step Homeless Service, Sharon Chapman, said the city has seen an increase in its homeless population over the past couple of years. The rise has led to more encampments in the area.
“We do street outreach and so we have noticed that we have what appears to be more encampments in various parts around the city,” Chapman said.
Chapman said the emergency shelter is usually full leaving many people unable to find shelter.
The city of Fort Smith also has recognized that there are more tents in the city, and says it will work to stop them from popping up. Property Maintenance Supervisor Shawn Gard said starting next year, the city will be doing code enforcements of the tents. Gard said the tents do not meet the standards for habitation.
“With a tent it affords little to no safety from storms, tornadoes, thunderstorms, lightning storms, extreme heat or extreme cold,” Gard said “And the one thing within Fort Smith is we want to see everybody who is here is safe.”
Gard said the enforcement is about keeping the city safe and clean, not about punishing people. The tents are showing up on private property.
“For the first six months, we’ll handle this pretty much on complaint-by-complaint basis brought to our attention, we’ll go out and document it and send out notification letters to people,” Gard said.
Chapman said she understands the city needs to regulate private property, but she said she is concerned about the impact this could have on people during the winter months.
“It’s just really unfortunate that this is being done in the coldest months of the winter,” Chapman said.
Gard said the city will continue to work with homeless services in the area to do what they can for the homeless population.