‘I’m forever grateful’: Client of Fayetteville’s Hearth Program has been in stable housing for a decade thanks to the program

photo by: Fayetteville Community Resources Department

Miguel Garcia, a participant in the Fayetteville Community Resources Department's Hearth Program, is pictured alongside a box of food donations distributed through the department's supplemental food program.

Like many people who have experienced homelessness, Miguel Garcia’s story is one of cycles.

Garcia is a client of the Hearth Program, which is facilitated by the Community Resources Department in Fayetteville, Arkansas, and helps individuals and families experiencing homelessness get placed in permanent supportive housing, assists with rent and utility costs and tailors case management appointments to individual needs on a weekly basis.

He’s one of the program’s success stories, an individual who has overcome struggles with homelessness and other challenges earlier in life to find stable housing and a system of supports that will keep him there. When the Journal-World traveled to Fayetteville to learn more about New Beginnings NWA, the closest community to Lawrence with an operating Pallet shelter community, it also had a chance to speak with Garcia about how he ended up in stable housing thanks to the Hearth Program.

“I’m very, very grateful to God, you know?” Garcia told the Journal-World earlier this month. “…I can’t fathom what I’d do without Him. I know I look rugged, that’s why I talk about my past. I can’t say ‘Me and my kids, we went to Disneyland or SeaWorld’ or whatever. It never happened so I can’t talk about it. But what I’ve been through, I can talk about because I’ve been through it.”

Garcia’s path through the social service landscape of northwest Arkansas started in nearby Bentonville, where he first spent some time staying at the local Salvation Army’s overnight shelter. Often, employers would come by the facility in the morning looking for workers, and Garcia was asked to join a job. As a result, within three months he was able to afford an apartment and pick up a second job.

But then came a cycle. Garcia and his employer had a falling out, and he lost his job and apartment.

“So I was right back at square one again,” Garcia said.

That was when he made his way about 30 miles south to Fayetteville, where he stayed at another local Salvation Army affiliate. Garcia said it was often a challenge to keep himself and his belongings secure while juggling his efforts to find stable employment. In places like that, similar to the current structure at the Lawrence Community Shelter, Garcia said he had to spend a chunk of time from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. every day finding something else to do.

Today, Garcia is diabetic and suffers from kidney failure, a product of not taking care of himself earlier in his life that eventually “caught up” to him. He spent 10 years in federal prison, which is when his medical condition began declining.

Then, it was back to the cycle once again. After he got out, Garcia, still homeless, and his sons spent time staying at motels and with family friends, living off of the roughly $200 a month he received in Social Security benefits. That remained the same until he was referred to the City of Fayetteville’s Hearth Program.

“I’ve been in here for almost 10 years,” Garcia said. “Thank God, thanks to them.”

Due to his medical condition, Garcia said he hasn’t been cleared to go back to work, even though he’s itching to. He has held a wide range of jobs over the years — as a cook, a certified nursing assistant, a restorative aide and a construction worker.

That’s been especially frustrating, he said, because he always had the same mindset when he was experiencing homelessness — to work hard and turn things around.

“I always (wanted to) work and get on my feet and get out,” Garcia said. “That was my goal.”

That mindset and the experience of finding a way out of homelessness left Garcia with no shortage of advice for others who might be looking to make a similar change. He said there are plenty of ways to do that — from finding all of the resources you can to sticking to the rules.

“You’ve got to find it — it’s not going to come to you,” Garcia said. “But in the long run, it’ll all pay off, you know? It’s paid off (for me), and the people that I’ve worked with, they’ve helped me out a lot. I’m forever grateful to them. I’d be homeless out there again, struggling with my condition.”


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