American Sociological Association

Sociology in Action: Kevin Fitzpatrick

Kevin Fitzpatrick, University Professor in sociology at the University of Arkansas, works with Serve Northwest Arkansas (servenwa.org) in Bentonville, AR, on a housing initiative to serve the chronically homeless population. ASA asked Fitzpatrick about his work:

What is the mission of Serve NWA? The mission of ServeNWA is to encourage and inspire a response of service for the benefit of the under-resourced, vulnerable, and exploited in Northwest Arkansas. The organization is primarily volunteer-driven with a focus on no- and low-income persons and households; their initiatives tend to be less driven by one-time events and more about sustainable, committed work at the personal level in the community.

Could you describe your involvement with the organization? After becoming a board member several years ago, we began a discussion about limited housing opportunities for homeless persons and the development of a housing project that would have an immediate impact on the homeless population in Northwest Arkansas. We wanted to design a project that was affordable, sustainable, and replicable. We began work on a micro-village project nearly three years ago and we are now in the stages of moving through the complicated code and regulation maze in the city.

Our levels of partnership and funding have exceeded my expectations and we are currently working with the University of Arkansas and the City of Fayetteville to acquire a 5-acre piece of property to construct an emergency/transitional micro-shelter community that would initially house up to 20 adults in micro shelters of approximately 150 sq. ft. The facility will have portable toilets, gender- specific showers, a community wash/clean area, wi-fi, community gardens, and office space for case managers; health care providers; mental health professionals; job training coaches, and more. The goal is to create a Housing First facility with low-resistance entry and high-resistance occupancy. Occupants can stay up to 180 days depending on their particular needs and case. The goal is to provide safe, secure, transition out of the woods toward more stable housing in the community with employment, security, support, and hope.

What sociological knowledge and/or skills did you use? I have been working as a community researcher, specifically working on homelessness, for the last 30 years. Initially, I worked with colleagues at the University of Alabama-Birmingham to implement the first point-in-time homeless census in the city of Birmingham, and later, after moving to the University of Arkansas in 2005, I designed and implemented the first point-in-time census in Northwest Arkansas, recently completing the sixth census over the last decade. At Arkansas, we have generated several reports designed to assist service providers with a better understanding of the population they serve, what their needs are, and what the gaps in services are. Finally, both in Birmingham and in Northwest Arkansas, we designed and executed several major surveys of homeless adults, yielding rich data and detailed information on these populations that have netted us an extensive bibliography of research, multiple funded projects, and an important resource for service providers to use to address the needs of homeless adults throughout the region.

How long have you been involved? The specific housing project has been ongoing now for more than three years and we expect that it will continue for several more years.

Is there anything else you would like to share about this work? Since coming to the University of Arkansas and engaging in a type of public sociology that I had previously been unfamiliar with, I found it to be a richly rewarding experience. It has motivated the funding and work of our research center (cfi.uark.edu), provided countless opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students to be engaged in both research and community outreach work, and has increased the visibility of the department and the university as a land grant institution in the state of Arkansas and the south central region of the country. Our ongoing work with the vulnerable and disenfranchised has been supported by the university, local city governments, local non-profits and faith-based service providers, and a highly engaged, motivated, concerned, and philanthropic citizenry.