Homeless Shelter Nearly Shut Down For Code Violations

The doors of the Gulfport Salvation Army remain open thanks to the generosity of some caring people. On Friday, Gulfport building inspectors told the Salvation Army there were serious code violations at its shelter on 24th Avenue. If the problems weren't corrected by 5 p.m. on Monday the shelter would have to close.

"I didn't have anything but the clothes on my back," said France, a homeless woman.

When she had nowhere else to go, the Salvation Army took her in. She spent most of Monday worrying what would happen if the Gulfport shelter had to turn people away.

"I will be out on the sidewalk," she said. "I'm very scared about that and I pray to God that people will rally around this."

About 65 people sleep at the shelter each night. Building inspectors found enough code violations on Friday to shut down the shelter immediately.

Major Darrell Kingsbury heads the Gulfport Salvation Army.

"When they [inspectors] were here it was about 4:30 p.m. and they were talking about a 5 o'clock deadline at that point and there was no way that we could have done anything in 30 minutes."

The 40-year-old buildings needed lighted exit signs, emergency lights and smoke detectors that all go off whenever one is triggered. The city gave the shelter more time and asked the Mississippi Gulf Coast Homebuilders Association for help.

The Association's president John Ruble pointed out to WLOX violations like a door that opened inward instead of outward, as is required by law in dormitory type buildings. Ruble's group is picking up the tab for labor and materials which could be as much as $8,000. The group is doing for the charity, what the charity couldn't do itself.

"This is what we do," Ruble said. "This is our community, our home. We need to give back something. That's why we're here."

Kingsbury says he's grateful. With tears in his eyes he said, "To the Salvation Army, it means that people we pull off of the streets will not go back on the streets. It means that this great community has stepped forward once again."

Gulfport city officials say the inspection was prompted by a complaint and that they are trying to work with the shelter to make the other necessary changes. Meanwhile, Salvation Army officials say they're in a difficult position for making improvements because they plan to tear down the existing shelter and build a new one in the next few years.