Proposed homeless shelter causes contention with Batesville residents

BATESVILLE, AR (KAIT) – A number of residents discussed homelessness at a meeting Monday in Batesville. Those in attendance heard one local ministry talk about its desire to open the area's first homeless shelter, but several obstacles stand in its way.

The Hellfighters Christian Ministries of Batesville recently had a building donated to them, but it needs costly upgrades to meet current city codes. Residents living near the proposed shelter are also concerned about its proximity to an elementary school.

"We're trying to come up with something where we can just have the facilities to take care of these people," Charles Blakely said, adding: "because it just breaks your heart to have to tell somebody, 'I'm sorry, there's nothing I can do for you.'"

Blakely is president of the Hellfighters, a Christian motorcycle ministry in Batesville. He would like to move from the group's current location on West College Street to a recently donated, vacant building on West Pine Street.

"We'd like to have 20 beds for women, 20 beds for men, and we'd also like to have a family area," Blakely said about the proposed homeless shelter.

He would also like to open a thrift store and motorcycle repair shop so that those staying there could make some money. Before moving in, though, the building needs to meet current city codes, including having an expensive sprinkler system installed. Neighbors are also not too pleased to have a homeless shelter nearby.

"We support helping the homeless," said Fred Krug, a Batesville City Council member, "but, once again, there's a zoning issue, and, yes, we feel like there's a safety issue with the kids having to walk by the homeless shelter."

Krug represents the west side of Batesville, the area near the proposed shelter. He has received countless calls from residents, many saying the shelter would be too close to the city's largest elementary school.

"And, I can only speak for myself, I would vote no to have it here," Krug added.

The Hellfighters currently provide food and clothing to those in need, but Blakely says more and more are stopping by and asking for a place to sleep.

"If it wasn't for them right now, we would be on the streets sleeping in our car," Adam McDaniel of Batesville said.

McDaniel says finding the Hellfighters has been a blessing after recently losing both his job and his apartment.

"We've said our prayers, and (God) sent us here for a reason," McDaniel said. "This is the reason He sent us here because they're willing to help."

People, like McDaniel, inspire the Hellfighters to move forward with plans to open the homeless shelter. Blakely says the group is looking at cost estimates to bring the new building up to code, but it will likely need about $30,000 to install the sprinkler system.

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