LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – It’s a mission and a building to help curve the number of young people experiencing homelessness in Arkansas. On Tuesday, the nonprofit Immerse Arkansas held a groundbreaking for its youth shelter in Little Rock.
Those with the organization said $2.3 million dollars have been donated, and although they’re working to raise money to $3 million dollars, they say they’re still happy they had enough to break ground and start the road to building a space meant to protect young people. Officials with the nonprofit also said it will be the first of its kind in the state to be a shelter for youth.
Assistant Director Justin Sanders said the shelter, which is named the Station Youth Shelter, will be available for those 18 to 24 years old to stay 60 to 90 days. There are 15 individual suites that include a bed and bathroom. He says the shelter is also designed to protect youth.
“It tells a different story of what a station can be, that it is a protection for young people.” Sanders also says, “we have the capacity to serve even families as they come in so if there is a single mom or single dad that comes in.”
The organization says over 100 young people in the state at any given night are without a shelter. They’re hoping the space will help curve those numbers.
Sanders said they also hope they can have the shelter finished by next summer. When it’s complete it will be a 9,000 square-foot facility which will also include therapy rooms.
Derek Wooten is 18 years old and he said before being introduced to those at Immerse Arkansas, he faced many challenges.
“I was in a psychiatric ward because I was struggling with a lot of bipolar and depression and I hit a really low point but I wasn’t ready to come back home because I wasn’t ready to step back into my past,” Wooten said.
Wooten said he was then transitioned to an adult shelter after leaving the facility but he says he didn’t feel like it was a good environment for him to grow.
“There’s a lot of adults out there that they’re still holding on to their past,” Wooten said.
Brody Johnson is 21 years old and he also said he was in a dark place before Immerse Arkansas and struggled in adult shelters in central Arkansas.
“I got in here and dealt with a lot of hate and anger towards past trauma,” Johnson said.
Officials with the nonprofit said many young people face challenges in adult shelters with some not feeling safe. They said that is also why they felt having a youth shelter was critical.
Johnson said he was introduced to Immerse Arkansas last year and since then has gained a new job and is creating a plan for his future.
“It gave me a safe place to stay, I had a great support team,” Johnson said.
Sanders said he hopes the shelter will be a place of hope and healing, helping young people transition into the next part of their life.
Wooten said he is happy the shelter will be built and hopes to stay there once it is.
“When you get your own roof over your head and your own environment it allows you to leave the past behind and step into your future,” Wooten said.
Sanders said although the shelter is for those 18 to 24, they work with them to try to get them their own places and when people do turn older than 24 they have other housing options in place for them.
The shelter will be located at 3201 Mary Street, Little Rock. Those interested in donating can do so online.