Housing for the homeless is coming to Gulfport

By Brad Kessie - bio | email

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - A new workforce housing center is supposed to create a gateway out of poverty.  The 60 bed complex will provide shelter for the homeless.  But more importantly, it will provide job training skills for the men who live there.

The shelter will be built on 19th Street in downtown Gulfport, across the street from the Feed My Sheep soup kitchen.  Community development block grant money, and a donation from the Gulf Coast Community Foundation will pay for the project.

William Richardson orchestrated the project's development.

"We want this to be a model, not only architecturally but operationally," Richardson said during a news conference.

Richardson is with a non-profit group called the Pass Christian Delisle Community Center.  His group is building the Marsha Barbour Resource Center in the Pass.  Now, it's working on a project in Gulfport.  The drawing he unveiled Friday is a transitional housing shelter for the homeless in downtown Gulfport.

"The function of the building is to sleep people and house people," he said.

However, the shelter will be more than a place to get out of the rain.  Its tenants will be 60 men who want to lead productive lives again.

"You're going to come in jobless, homeless.  And you're going to leave with a job, with training that will help you sustain a job," Richardson emphasized.

Because of a $250,000 grant from the Gulf Coast Community Foundation, and $2 million from the Mississippi Development Authority, some of the area's homeless will once again have a place to live.

Ted Hearn serves on the Pass Christian Delisle Community Center board.  He's also a Salvation Army board member.

"This is going to be well built and then well operated," Hearn said.  "We'll be doing some good things with people getting back on their feet."

Hearn noted that the Salvation Army once had plans to rebuild its 24th Avenue shelter.  But the agency's bylaws wouldn't allow the local board to use federal grant money for the project.  So, those plans got shelved, until William Richardson volunteered his non-profit's assistance.

"It feels like a home," he said.  "I think everything should be themed that you build.  And this is a nice, country home for people."

Richardson said the people he was referring to were often forgotten members of the community, especially after Hurricane Katrina.

The Mississippi Development Authority and the Gulf Coast Housing Office have been encouraged to create housing options for the homeless.  Housing director Gerald Blessey said the transitional workforce housing center was a step in that direction.

"What we're talking about today won't solve all the homeless needs of the coast, but it's a good beginning," said Blessey.

Once the deal closes to buy the 19th Street property, construction will begin.  The new homeless shelter in downtown Gulfport could open in the summer of 2010.

When tenants get full-time work, they'll pay up to $55 a month to remain in the shelter.  But they'll only be allowed to stay in the workforce housing center until they can afford a more permanent place to live.

Planners said only men will be eligible for residency in the center, because they make up a much larger percentage of the homeless population.  A housing complex for women will be considered once the first building is open.

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