Conway Catholics rally to serve the ‘unseen’ homeless

City of Hope Outreach executive director Phillip Fletcher shows artwork that area children have done at the Oakwood facility. CoHO is a Christian non-profit serving low-income areas of Conway.
City of Hope Outreach executive director Phillip Fletcher shows artwork that area children have done at the Oakwood facility. CoHO is a Christian non-profit serving low-income areas of Conway.

CONWAY — City of Hope Outreach executive director Phillip Fletcher is hoping to prove the word “unseen” on the camouflage shirts the organization is selling in response to the homeless population in Conway wrong.

“Our motto is ‘making the unseen visible,’” Fletcher said. “Conway’s a growing city. You’re going to have more people coming in who are in need … We can’t forget these people who are here. If they stay, they are just as important as the people living in subdivisions or apartments.”

The City of Hope Outreach in Conway is a Christian nonprofit that for the past five years has served low-income areas of Conway by putting up community centers for education and as a place where the youth can have a safe, spiritually uplifting place to go. CoHO has two centers, one a trailer and one a duplex, called Oakwood and Brookside respectively. The facilities also host several initiatives throughout the year to encourage personal and spiritual growth. A third facility, South Ash, will open in the fall.

Fletcher said his relationship with St. Joseph Church in Conway has been an important part of CoHO’s growth.

“We’ve had a great partnership with St. Joseph Catholic Church,” Fletcher said. “When we opened up Brookside, Don Greenland helped renovate and Rita Strauss helped furnish the trailer with couches and help with ESL [English] guidance … Our relationship has always been awesome.”

Greenland, chairman of the Missions Committee at St. Joseph, said it’s the committee’s goal to get more involved in missions outside the parish. CoHO was an easy fit.

“What we thought was amazing was that Phillip and his staff immerse themselves in the communities. That’s what really drives our mission committee is Christ commands to help the poor. There are people half a mile from where you are in need and that needs to be a priority,” Greenland said. “What we liked about it is it’s really about attacking the root cause issues and making it possible for some people to break out of that cycle and have a positive change in their lives.”

Greenland, chief operating officer of Nabholz Construction Services, drew in church members and employees who wanted to help renovate and do all the necessary work to get the Brookside facility running. By Greenland’s estimation, there are between 8 and 10 volunteers to help on the construction side of things for CoHO and at least 20 or so who work with people in the communities, from tutoring to helping with various activities.

“When I was working at the Brookside facility, there were Sunday services on the deck of the trailer with guitar music. The children just flock to what they’re doing, you can see the joy in the activities, the learning in their eyes,” Greenland said.

In addition to Brookside, St. Joseph also helped plant a community garden and a priest blessed it, Fletcher said.

The next step for CoHO is to expand its outreach to the homeless men in Conway by creating the “Hope Home.” CoHO currently has a single-wide trailer used as a temporary men’s shelter, put up about two years ago. Since then, 19 to 20 men have used it at different times.

“It’s a single-wide trailer that comfortably fits five people in there. Four in a room, one on the futon in the front room,” Fletcher said. “I’d like to see a home big enough with two per room and someone who would stay as a house dad.”

The stereotypical view of the homeless is another stigma Fletcher and CoHO is trying to break. After all, Fletcher, now a married father of three and a U.S. Army veteran, has walked that same path.

After graduating from college in 1997, Fletcher married Nicolle, co-founder and financial director of CoHO, and soon after, lost his job at a nonprofit.

“It ended up that we didn’t have a place to stay. We were sleeping on my pastor’s couch for awhile, then with friends. It was pretty tough when you’ve done all the right things — college degree, got married,” Fletcher said. “I found a lot of humility.”

Soon, Fletcher found work and then enlisted in the military. He moved to Conway in 2007.

“My wife calls me a provoker. I really seek to advocate for the support of the homeless,” Fletcher said, pointing to Proverbs 6:11, “poverty will come upon you like a robber.” “This could be any of us. There’s a high level of pride and arrogance to think you could never wind up in that situation. Our organization seeks to remind people we’re all humans.”

Even in that small trailer space, Fletcher has seen firsthand lives that have been changed.

“I’ve got great success stories, some from men who just needed a couple of nights here,” Fletcher said. “It’s always good when they call and say, ‘I’m doing well and I just wanted to say thank you.’”

Sticking true to the mission, CoHO does share the Gospel with those who are at their facilities, but does not force devotion, like a Bible study, upon those who stay.

“We’ve had people who believe in Jesus Christ, some Muslim, agnostic, we’ve run the gamut,” Fletcher said. “They know on the front end you’re going to hear about the Gospel and be prayed for. We’ve never had a ‘I don’t want to hear that’ scenario.”

Fletcher is not Catholic but he has high praise for the message of his “favorite Catholic,” Pope Francis.

“I love him. In his book, ‘The Church of Mercy’ he explains we need to let ourselves be evangelized by the poor because the poor experience the suffering of Christ. When I hear that, I say, ‘Yes, that’s what I want my Protestant brothers and sisters to understand,’” Fletcher said. “One of the things I love about the Catholic tradition is the emphasis on the poor and the ‘least of these.’ I think we can do so much more together under the banner of Jesus Christ.”

Greenland, a convert to Catholicism, said that’s what it should be about — working together for common beliefs.

“As I got more involved in the Catholic Church I had come across that some don’t reach out to other denominations. It doesn’t matter what background you’re from, it’s a Christian service. We’re all trying to get to the same place,” Greenland said. “We’re all trying to do God’s word. It’s been a lot of fun (with CoHO).”

Greenland and Fletcher both agreed they will work together to make Hope Home a reality, which will not only provide housing for homeless men in the area but will include classes on employment best practices, budgeting and, of course, spiritual guidance. Greenland said St. Joseph will help with grant applications for Hope Home.

For Fletcher, helping the homeless and less fortunate doesn’t always require monetary donations.

“Simply give them a smile and say their day is going to be better,” Fletcher said. “Loving words, hope-filled words can give somebody something they need right then and there.”

To donate, buy a T-shirt to support CoHO or to find out how to volunteer for CoHO, visit

Aprille Hanson Spivey

Aprille Hanson Spivey has contributed to Arkansas Catholic as a freelancer and associate editor since 2010. She leads the Beacon of Hope grief ministry at St. Joseph Church in Conway.

Latest from News