GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - South Mississippians who once lived on the streets are sharing their stories of survival in a new cookbook called Mailbox Muffins and Other Recipes From the Gulf Coast Homeless.
The cookbook includes dishes like tuna surprise, pork and beans salad, and hot pork and crackers. The former homeless people also write about coming up with creative ways to cook food, like using a mailbox over a pit fire as an oven. Hence the name Mailbox Muffins.
All the recipes in the cookbook come from residents of Oregon Place Apartments in Gulfport. An organization called Mississippi Cares International helps people transition from homelessness to independence.
Bobby Joe Kelly enjoys having his own kitchen, but during his eight years of living in the woods, he often had to use his ingenuity to eat a hot meal.
"Most of the stuff you get from the food pantry is just water mix," said Kelly. "You just mix it with water and bake it. You don't have to use no eggs, milk, nothing like that."
Oregon Place Apartments is where homeless people can go to make a fresh start. Tenants can move into completely furnished units that include everything down to the spoons and forks.
"We're providing a hand up, not a hand out. As long as you're trying to make something better for you and get back on your feet and get to be an economic independent person, we'll be there with you," William Richardson of Mississippi Cares International said. "But if you want to come here and sit on the front steps and do nothing all day, there's somebody that needs help worse than you."
Mississippi Cares International doesn't require tenants to pay deposits or utility payments, but they must be good neighbors.
"We've got to fit in. We can't be judged by a few," said Richardson. "So we have a no drug policy. We can, by our lease, randomly drug test anybody that wants to live here. We have a no alcohol on premise rule. You will be in job training or increasing your educational skills as you live here."
Kelly became homeless after cataracts cost him his job. He's telling his story because he believes there are too many misperceptions about the homeless.
"You don't see us. We're not there," said Kelly. "You see us, but you don't see us. And that's what's bad."
Kelly is working on his GED and grateful for the chance to again have a roof over his head. Mississippi Cares International officials said they partner with several other non-profits to provide social services for tenants. That way they can try to address any issues that may have contributed to them becoming homeless.
Oregon Place Apartments is made up of 14 four-plexes. The residents' new cookbook includes a foreword from Mississippi First Lady Marsha Barbour.