Our House was incorporated in September of 1987 following two years of study into the ever-growing problems of the homeless in Central Arkansas. The study, which was conducted by the Arkansas Conference of Churches and Synagogues (the Arkansas Interfaith Conference), the United Way of Pulaski County, and other interested community agencies, determined that the greatest need was to find shelter for homeless families. Two shelters in Little Rock offered only short-term stays for individuals, with no place for families to stay together and no assistance with long-term needs and planning. Our House set out to fill this gap and to meet the needs of Central Arkansas's working homeless population.
Under the leadership of founding director Joe Flaherty, in 1988 Our House initially established a 40-bed emergency shelter in the old parish hall of St. Andrew’s Catholic Church in downtown Little Rock. In 1991, Our House opened its Family Housing program on the grounds of the old VA hospital in southeast Little Rock. The Family Housing program enabled homeless families to live in an apartment-style setting to better prepare them for success in their own homes. After several years at the St. Andrew’s site, the emergency shelter moved into a former department store on Main Street in downtown Little Rock.
Realizing that housing alone was not enough to help families out of homelessness, Our House has always focused on providing other essential services to help give homeless families the skills and support they need to turn their lives around. In 1991, Our House began its job skills training programs, with an initial focus on training for computer jobs. The computer job training program was launched with the donation of $250,000 worth of computer equipment from IBM, and it was the first such program for homeless people in the nation. Also in 1991, Our House began providing free childcare to take care of homeless children while their parents work full-time jobs.
In 2005, construction was completed on a new 80-bed emergency shelter at the southeast Little Rock site. This new facility consolidated all of Our House’s programs in one location, nearly doubled residential capacity, and gave residents a more home-like environment complete with an outdoor picnic area and a playground – features that were unavailable on Main Street. That same year, leadership of Our House passed from Joe Flaherty to Georgia Mjartan, who was previously a board member. The new campus was re-named the Joe Flaherty campus, to honor the founding director’s 18 years of service. One of Ms. Mjartan’s first initiatives as Executive Director was to launch, in 2006, after-school and summer programs for school-aged youth, the first such programs specifically for homeless children in the state. She also began planning and fundraising for a substantial renovation of the Family Housing facilities, which was completed in 2010.
Our House’s success in helping homeless families has led to national attention, including recognition by two U.S. Presidents. The Our House model has been replicated across the country in 39 states and throughout Arkansas. Our House has also helped to build the capacity of the social service sector in Central Arkansas. For instance, Our House launched Potluck Food Rescue in 1989, with grant funding from UPS, and since then Potluck has spun off into its own nonprofit organization which provides food to more than 7,000 hungry people each week (including residents of Our House). In 2006, Our House helped to found Harmony Health Clinic, a free clinic for uninsured low-income people located across the street from Our House.