Homeless seek hot meals, warm place to stay during freeze

HARRISON COUNTY, MS (WLOX) - Harrison County Coroner Gary Hargrove confirmed the body found in the woods in Gulfport Monday was the first cold weather death on the Mississippi Coast in three years.  Hargrove said James Hooker, 59, of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, died of hypothermia.

His death reveals just how dangerous the record low temperatures can be for those who don't have a roof over their heads. Several organizations are stepping up efforts to help keep the homeless safe and warm.

"Oh man, it's been real cold!" said one homeless man.

"It's like 17 degrees in the morning when you wake up. It's cold out there," said another homeless person.

When temperatures dip into the freezing zone, homemade hot chicken pot pie really hits the spot.

"I'm grateful that they have places to feed us during the day," said Melissa Benedict, who is homeless.

The director of Loaves and Fishes soup kitchen in Biloxi has noticed more homeless people coming in this week. They lined-up for hot meals and enjoyed a warm place to stay for a few hours.

"We feed breakfast and lunch six days a week. We do try to make our facility available between breakfast and lunch. We're not set up to do that, but when it's real cold, bad weather, we do our best to make ourselves available for that," said Joseph Gautier, Loaves & Fishes Director.

"They give us pants, shirts, jackets, stuff like that, everything. Oh man, it's nice," said Robert Washington, who is homeless.

At the Salvation Army in Gulfport, nearly 80 donated coats and jackets were given out Monday night. Roxanna Touchet proudly showed off her new hat, sweater and puffy coat.

"They kept me real warm, and they're a blessing in disguise," said Touchet.

Other cold weather necessities that were donated by the community will also be distributed to people in need.

"We received from them some propane tanks and also some sleeping bags, which are valuable, no matter what the weather is," said Salvation Army Volunteer Ted Hearn.

The homeless can watch TV, take a nap, play games, or enjoy a hot cup of coffee while they wait for the cold weather shelters to open. The Salvation Army also gave-out vouchers to the homeless, so they can shop for clothing in the Family Store.

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