Helping the homeless

A man who appears to be homeless reads a magazine inside a Greenwood recycling bin. A group of government officials, clergy and other interested citizens have revived a more-than-decade-long discussion about opening a homeless shelter. They are optimistic it will happen this time.

For at least a dozen years, there have been intermittent but unsuccessful efforts to get a homeless shelter started in Greenwood.

The problem, though, of people living under bridges or in abandoned houses or camping out on the city’s riverbanks hasn’t gone away.

A group of individuals who deal with the homeless believe the pieces may finally be coming together to bring a shelter to reality, possibly as soon as this winter.

“I think it’s going to come to fruition this time,” said Greenwood Mayor Carolyn McAdams.

Since February, she and other members of a committee representing a variety of interested organizations have been meeting to discuss the prospects.

“It’s just a collective group of people who for a lot of different reasons saw a need for a homeless shelter,” said Courtney Kimmel, the executive director of the United Way of Leflore County and a member of the group.

Also represented have been Greenwood Leflore Hospital, Life Help mental health center, the Leflore County Board of Supervisors and the Greenwood-Leflore Ministerial Association.

Because the homeless, except for the few who occasionally panhandle at shopping areas, tend to keep a low profile in Greenwood, their presence is often overlooked.

McAdams herself said she was shocked to learn how many there are.

Five or six years ago, she said, the Greenwood police did a survey of the homeless. It determined at that time that there were 70 to 80 of them. McAdams thinks the number could be more now, especially of people who are passing through Greenwood with no place to stay and no money to pay for lodging. Last year, a homeless family turned up in Baptist Town, where it camped out on a vacant lot.

The Rev. Joachim Studwell, pastor of St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church, said that although there are some chronically homeless in Greenwood, the larger numbers come from the transient homeless or the temporarily homeless — people who have been evicted by their landlords or kicked out of where they have been staying by family members or friends.

The Greenwood Ministerial Association, when it hears of such cases, will pick up the tab for the homeless to stay at a local motel, but because of the volume of requests and the ecumenical group’s limited budget, the assistance is restricted to no more than two nights per recipient within a 12-month period.

That’s usually not long enough, though, to keep the homeless out of the bone-chilling cold of winter or the oppressive heat of summer, Studwell said.

“Temporary can be a month. It can be a week. It can be a couple of days.”

Two recent developments — the identification of a possible site for a homeless shelter and an organization that might operate it — have Studwell and others optimistic that a long-term solution may have been found.

Possible homeless shelter site

The former Leflore County Community Work Center is being seriously considered as the site for a proposed homeless shelter. The facility, which is located on Baldwin Road near the Greenwood-Leflore Industrial Park, is jointly owned by the county and the city of Greenwood.

The site is the former Leflore County Community Work Center on Baldwin Road, near the Greenwood-Leflore Industrial Park. That facility, which is jointly owned by Greenwood and Leflore County, was shuttered more than a year ago when the Mississippi Department of Corrections decided to reopen the nearby Delta Correctional Facility and use it as a centralized location for housing lower-risk male felons.

The CWC facility is equipped with sleeping quarters, showers, a kitchen, a laundry room and counseling areas. It is secured by a high chain-link fence and gated entrance. Its somewhat isolated location is also ideal for avoiding possible objections from the city’s residents, said Leflore County Supervisor Anjuan Brown, for whom helping the homeless has been a longtime interest.

“It would be the perfect spot,” he said. “It’s in a location that’s not in the heart of the city.”

The Salvation Army is open to the idea of overseeing the proposed shelter as an expansion of its social ministries.

Lt. Jason McMullin, who took over with his wife, Keisha, as corps officers in Greenwood a few months ago, said that he is still doing his homework to be sure the project is feasible for the long term.

“I would love to do it. We just need to make sure everything checks out,” he said.  

“If we do something, we want to be sure that the community is behind it. From what we hear, the community is behind it. We are hopeful.”

The financial details have to still be worked out. The facility, said McAdams, could be leased to The Salvation Army for a nominal amount. Although The Salvation Army would provide the paid staffing supplemented by volunteer helpers, there would be other operating expenses to cover. It would probably require, the shelter’s proponents say, a combination of funding sources — annual appropriations from the two local governments, state or federal grants and charitable contributions.

“In order to make the homeless shelter successful, it is going to have to be a community effort,” said Kimmel. “This is not anything that just The Salvation Army can do, that just the United Way can do.”

She is optimistic, though, that once the community understands the need, it will respond.

Brown said he and others envision the homeless shelter as being more than a place for the displaced to rest their heads at night and get a meal. The idea would be to also see if they have physical or mental conditions that require treatment, to provide literacy or skills training and to help with job placement so that they could be productive citizens in the community.

“We don’t want it to be a crutch situation,” he said. “We want it to be a revolving situation where we’re helping people.”

Studwell, the Catholic priest, said the ultimate goal should be to care for the homeless — whatever the cause of their displacement — with compassion and respect.

“We want to treat people as human beings, respecting their human dignity, regardless of the situation in which they find themselves.”

Contact Tim Kalich at 581-7243 or tkalich@gwcommonwealth.com.

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