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For local people who are homeless or low-income, Next Step Homeless Services in Fort Smith offers many services that can help.

Sharon Chapman, executive director of Next Step Homeless Services, said the nonprofit organization, which is a United Way agency, has two branches of what it does. This includes the Next Step Day Room and transitional housing.

“Our mission … is seeking solutions to homelessness through individual case management with a direction towards self-sufficiency, which basically means we’re trying to work with individuals in our area who come to us as they are … we want to meet with people as they are in their state of homelessness and try to take them to a more independent situation,” Chapman said.

Among the services the Next Step Day Room provides are breakfast and lunch every day, birth certificates and IDs, hygiene kits and various donated goods, such as blankets and gloves. The Day Room is also a place where people can receive their mail, as well as partake in other services.

Chapman said the organization has case management services that encourage independence.

“We try to get them to work with our case managers to apply for housing, jobs,” Chapman said.

The organization also has different kinds of skills training.

“We partner with the (Fort Smith) Adult Education Center that comes into our building every week, and provide computer classes and other resume-building classes, things for people who are wanting to get a job and to learn new skills and better themselves,” Chapman said.

Other classes offered by the organization include those dedicated to anger management, budgeting and life skills. Chapman said Next Step has also nurses that come in from the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith to perform blood pressure and health wellness checks.

Chapman said Next Step has three group transitional homes. One of these is the Buddy Smith Home, which has 15 beds, 10 of which are dedicated to male military veterans. The other transitional houses are the Gabriel House for single men and the Esther Home for women and women with children.

Next Step has more recently provided transitional houses for families, Chapman said. This includes the Calderera and 12th Street homes, which are single family transitional homes, the Next Step Duplex, and the Jack Bradley Freedom House, which is a transitional home for a veteran and their family.

“So we have five different spaces for individual families to go and stay,” Chapman said. “They can access our case management. They’re encouraged to fill out applications for jobs. We work with them to help them save money in an account that, when they get out of our services, they can use that money for down payments for apartments and other rental situations that they’re going to be in after they leave us.”

Applicants must be willing to commit to being drug and alcohol free when staying at Next Step’s transitional housing options, Chapman said.

John Foster, director of case management for Next Step, said the highlights of him working at the organization are helping the individuals with whom it works.

“The people that we serve daily here at the Day Room, we keep them with basic needs so they can be here tomorrow and make choices to, hopefully to get them out of their situation,” Foster said. “Also, the persons that we work with that do achieve some types of self-sufficiency, success could be measured in many, many ways, but any time they leave me better … than when they came in, I feel pleased with that.”

Foster said he could not do his responsibility without the support of the community.

“The community working with me, and having the community support us, is probably the greatest thing that I’ve ever experienced because I’m here representing the board (of directors), the director and the community, and helping people one person at a time, and there’s a lot of decisions to be made,” Foster said. “It’s overwhelming in a lot of ways, but I feel very confident that what I’m doing is right.”

The Next Step Homeless Services website states the organization opened in May 2002. Chapman said it served 1,356 separate individuals last year.

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