Fayetteville resident Jenny Ridyard manages client records for 7Hills Homeless Center. Photo: Andrew Epperson

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Jenny Ridyard works to help the homeless in Fayetteville, a situation she knows intimately.

Ridyard, 50, and her husband, Jim, were homeless for seven months, at times living in a tent, before she landed her position as a client service specialist and data entry worker with 7Hills Homeless Center.

At that time in her life, Ridyard’s income was zero. Jim Ridyard lost his job as a forklift operator because of Parkinson’s disease; he was no longer able to operate the controls. His medical bills increased as the Ridyards’ money decreased.

When they ran out of options, they began living out of a tent.

The 7Hills Homeless Center became an important resource for them, supplying needed medication and meals. The organization was founded in 2001 and aims to serve the growing homeless population in Washington and Benton Counties, which was 2,951 in 2017. The Fayetteville day center serves breakfast, offers clients the ability to take showers, receive and send mail, fill out job applications across the area and help people find housing.

When Jim Ridyard’s disease continued to accelerate because of his poor living conditions, his medical disability application was fast-tracked. The application process can sometimes take over a year, as Social Security Administration takes time to review applications. During the Ridyards’ waiting period, they ate at churches and continued to frequent 7Hills and the Salvation Army.

Around the same time Jim Ridyard began receiving his disability checks, an intriguing opportunity opened up for Jenny Ridyard. Because of her familiarity with the homeless community and her good standing within the 7Hills community, she was asked to apply for an open job in the client service and data within the center.

With the sudden influx in income and a new penchant for saving, the Ridyards moved into an apartment. Now, Jim Ridyard is retired while Jenny Ridyard, Chicago native, continues to work at 7Hills.  Jenny Ridyard declined to disclose her salary, yet her job generally fits into the category of “Social and Human Services Assistant” on the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Employment Database, which reports average earnings of $29,320.

Though she doesn’t live in poverty anymore, Ridyard still wonders why local residents fail to understand the extent of poverty  in Northwest Arkansas. She hopes Washington County leaders and residents will act more to help those who are most in need.

`There shouldn't be any poverty in Northwest Arkansas'

After finally moving into an apartment, the Ridyards opened a savings account and began buying their necessities at thrift stores and secondhand shops. Their monthly budget allows them to save money, which they intend to continue doing as they prepare to buy a house within the next year. The Ridyards live in a one-bedroom apartment and know they will likely pay more for a mortgage. Fayetteville’s average monthly gross residential rent is $749, according to the Census ACS Survey conducted in 2015.