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ECHO Village works to end homelessness in Eureka Springs

Buried deep within the Ozark Mountains of Northwest Arkansas sits Eureka Springs — a town of just over 2,000 citizens – where the intersection of faith and art meet in endlessly unique ways.

But it isn't just Eureka Springs dedication to being different that makes it a fascinating place to live; it's also the dedication of its citizens to make the town a better place for all, no matter what a person's living situation happens to be.

That's where ECHO Village comes into the picture. ECHO Village is the brainchild of Suzie Bell and her husband, Dr. Dan Bell.

ECHO Village is a living community for individuals who are homeless, low income, or in need of financial assistance in some form (single mothers, people recovering from drug addiction, former prisoners, etc.)

The idea for the community sprung from conversations that Suzie and her husband were having while working and managing ECHO clinic – which stands for Eureka Christian Health Outreach – a faith-based free medical clinic for uninsured, low-income individuals who are at or below the federal poverty level.

A volunteer sits on top of one of the homes to help assemble the roof of a new house in ECHO Village.

The Bells founded ECHO together in 2005 through conversations they had at their local United Methodist Church's Bible study. They realized there was a need in the town for a health clinic for those who were unable to pay for medical care on their own.

The clinic provides medical, dental, optometry care, physical therapy, counseling, pharmaceutical needs, and other services, and is staffed completely with volunteer doctors and physicians. Its mission is to "joyfully provide the best healthcare possible to individuals in need so that all feel God's love through the experience."

Over the years, ECHO clinic has seen people of all backgrounds and needs come through its doors. An astounding number of clinic patients – more than 40 percent, according to Suzie – are housing insecure, meaning they are either homeless or living with a friend or family.

"We realized that when we're treating patients – let's say someone who has bipolar disorder, for example – and we're giving them the help they need, but then sending them back out into the world without a healthy environment to live, then we're really not solving the problem," Suzie said. "That's why we decided that we had to do something more to give them some assistance."

As a simple solution, ECHO was putting people up in motel rooms, but a motel room is only a temporary fix for someone who is living without a permanent home. Something more needed to be done.

So, Suzie set out to find a way to solve the problem of homelessness in the town. She wrote a grant application to receive funding for a mental health home, with the intention of providing a place that could serve as a stepping stone for people to pull themselves out of whatever dire situation they may be in at the time.

After receiving their grant money for the first home, the Bells purchased 10 acres of land on Passion Play Road, and have dedicated the land for as many as 26 small homes to be built on it.

The houses will be built in phases, with phase 1 consisting of the first eight homes that will make up the inaugural ECHO Village community.

"There's going to be pride in this. We hope that we can get these people in these homes soon" Suzie said. "They aren't going to be fancy, but they're going to be nice and it's going to be something that we hope will give them great pride in themselves."

Caleb Hennington, Arkansas Annual Conference website

One of seven apportioned giving opportunities of The United Methodist Church, the World Service Fund is the financial lifeline to a long list of Christian mission and ministry throughout the denomination. Through the Four Areas of Focus churches are Engaging in ministry with the poor with their communities in ways that are transformative.

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