Fayetteville council approves trust fund for climate refugee resettlement

Fayetteville Mayor Lioneld Jordan / Fayetteville Government Channel

FAYETTEVILLE — The city will establish a trust fund to address a long-term potential rise in migration and refugee resettlement services due to climate change and war.

City Council members last month accepted a $100,000 grant from Dick Bennett, founder of the OMNI Center for Peace, Justice and Ecology, to set up the endowment as a pass-through to other agencies who can provide climate refugee resettlement services in Northwest Arkansas.

The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and other scientific institutions around the world have reported growing evidence that various climatic and extreme weather events are creating an increasing number of refugees being forced to leave their homes, according to staff documents. Uninhabitable heat, droughts, soil erosion, wildfires and flooding intensify those climate impacts, the panel found.

“The city of Fayetteville, as a caring and welcoming community, already participates with refugee resettlement services via Canopy NWA and other faith-based initiatives,” said Susan Norton, the city’s chief of staff in a memo to the council. “It is fitting for Fayetteville to continue to look to the future and prepare to create more new ways to welcome more people to Northwest Arkansas and Fayetteville at the same time as we focus on our goals for net zero emissions and climate resilience.”

Mayor Lioneld Jordan walked the item onto the Dec. 21 council agenda.

Jordan said Bennett has been a mentor to him.

“I’ve known him for probably 50 years and he’s always been a compassionate and caring individual,” said Jordan. “I can’t thank him enough for his generous gift here tonight he is giving to the city.”

Council Member Teresa Turk asked if others could donate to the fund in the future, and how recipients would be chosen.

Chief Financial Officer Paul Becker said the fund can be added to by anyone other than the city itself since taxpayer money cannot be allocated to the account. The administration, he said, will determine which organizations would be best helped by receiving funds.

“I want to sincerely thank Dr. Bennett,” Turk said. “He’s been a mentor to me as well.”

The City Council voted 7-0 to approve a resolution to start the fund.