By Sam Pierce
Samantha Hewett was raised in southeastern Detroit by a homeless heroin addict.
“I’ve been a child in those circumstances,” Hewett said. “And for children, it is a situation they can’t help, and 588 of the 964 homeless individuals in Faulkner County are minors.
“There is a misconception about why people become homeless, and for the most part, it is not true. Having been through that experience as a child and as an adult, I know first hand.”
Hewett, her husband, and her children were homeless for a month after her husband lost his job and wasn’t able to obtain employment again.
Hewett said most people believe homeless people have either mismanaged money or got into an addiction habit. She said the truth of the matter is that most people are hoping they don’t get sick or lose their job unexpectedly.
“I try to remind everybody that it could happen to anybody,” she said. “I remind people, they are one sickness, or major illness or accident, from being in the situation.”
Hewett is the director of Hope Village, a nonprofit that seeks to address homelessness in Conway. “Hope Village is a little different because it helps provide for an immediate need and is intended to totally transition human beings and be productive members of society,” Hewett said. “It helps them earn the skills needed to become members of society again.”
Hope Village recently received a check for $29,800 from a pair of fundraisers through First UMC Conway and Wesley UMC in Conway. She said they also have an ongoing fundraiser for bricks that will be placed on the walkways of the home, for $100 each. She said they get a few of those each month.
It takes approximately $30,000 to $40,000 to build one of the homes.
First UMC in Conway presents a check to Dr. Phil Fletcher, founder of CoHO, and Sam Hewett, director of Hope Village. || Photo provided by CoHO
“It will cost about $100 per square foot and each lot is somewhere between 400 to 600 square feet,” she said. “That will probably be edited as we meet with contractors and construction workers who are able to donate time and resources, and learn the land and lay foundation.”
The land for Hope Village was purchased back in 2018.
Hewett said the budget has been broken up into phases with Phase II being some of the most expensive work. She said as time goes on, and the word gets out and they meet with more people, it will bring the final cost down.
“It will be a mix income community that will serve both income families or individuals, not necessarily just those who are homeless,” she said. “It will help those individuals establish a new income, and get a job.
“It is very difficult to get work without their own physical address. We can help them with those resources and a percentage of their income will help cover rental cost.”
The Rev. JJ Whitney serves on the steering committee and assists with the fundraising effort and assists in getting the word out. She said Hope Village, once built, will follow the same kind of example as the Hope Home, which is already built but is for men only.
“The Hope Home is for men who are experiencing homelessness,” she said. “Someone handles their case and the men commit to certain things such as caring for the house and saving money and learning life skills to help them transition from living on the streets to having full-time employment.
“It’s a model that Phil (Fletcher) would like to try in the Hope Village. People can think about transitioning and also be in a place that forms communities for folks. It’s more than just finding housing for people, it’s creating a community.”
She said it takes quite a bit of money to build one of the model homes, so there are several fundraising events planned in Conway throughout the year.
“The city has been really receptive, honestly,” Whitney said. “A lot of people are upset that folks are experiencing homelessness … There are some that are very willing to give money, it is just going to take time.”
Wesley UMC in Conway presents a check to Dr. Phil Fletcher, founder of CoHO. || Photo provided by CoHO
Whitney said Hewett has quite a vision on how to raise money for the village.
Phillip Fletcher is the executive director of the City of Hope Outreach, or CoHO, which will oversee Hope Village. He said the goal is to build 10 homes in Conway that will serve homeless individuals, veterans and low-income families. He said there will be five one-bedroom homes and five two-bedroom homes, and the village will be built near the current existing houses on East Robins Street.
“I have two motivations for this project,” Fletcher said. “Back in 2015, I lost a friend to a fire at the Oakwood trailer park, so part of my motivation is to provide stable housing here in Conway and to provide quality housing for people with limited needs.”
Fletcher said CoHO focuses on three primary areas for community renewal including education, housing and community development.
The Hope Home is a three-bedroom, two-bath house that is able to house six men with an overnight and day staff. It provides housing for up to 18 months and assists the men with finding employment opportunities and financial development. Once they are finished with the program, they are able to graduate to their own housing.
John Leland is the Hope Home Director, which helps men transition out of homelessness or jail time and be reoriented into society by establishing a job and managing income.
“It teaches them responsibility and helps them get back on their feet,” Hewett said. “We want to take that program and apply it to more people.”
Hewett said for the Hope Village, there is going to be at least two homes for veterans and two homes for low-income families.
“There will be an application process for Hope Village, which will be a lot like what they are doing at the Hope Home,” Hewett said. “We are currently developing a program to determine what the eligibility might be.”
Fletcher said right now he is focused on sharing his plan with individuals and organizations and “persuading them that this is an effort worth investing in with both money and time.”
“We are thankful for the Methodist churches in town, who rallied together to provide a significant boost,” Fletcher said. “God has always been providing financial resources and volunteers — people with a passion to help other people.
“There are tons of stories of people being helped in a multitude of ways and God has opened the doors with financial resources and the opportunity to advocate what a person in poverty faces on a daily basis.”