BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - Is there a homeless problem on the Mississippi Gulf Coast? The Biloxi City Council will hear more about that issue at Tuesday's meeting. The City of Biloxi is being asked to support an initiative which seeks to significantly reduce homelessness by the year 2016.
How big is the problem? This past year, in the lower six counties, some 9,000 people received prevention services or homeless assistance.
Loaves and Fishes soup kitchen in Biloxi dishes out some 7,000 meals a month. Many of those who eat there are either homeless or facing some sort of housing crisis.
"The ministry here at Loaves and Fishes is to feed folks. And I have to keep my blinders on and feed folks. But I don't mind telling people there is a need for housing and if there's someone trying to fill that need, we need to get it done," said Director Joe Gautier.
Many of the homeless seek shelter in the woods or beneath bridges. Several hundred homeless veterans turned out for last Friday's Gulf Coast VA sponsored "stand down" event where they received free clothing and medical care.
"The reality is some of them won't even have a bridge to sleep under or the woods to sleep in. They'll be on a bench or they'll be on the sand beach or they'll be wherever they can find a place to lay their heads," said Gautier.
"Help us to solve the problem." Mary Simons will bring that message to the Biloxi city council on Tuesday. She wants the city's support in becoming a "Zero 2016" community, an initiative to significantly reduce homelessness among veterans and the chronic homeless.
"We need a collaborative plan. That plan means housing people, service, people who are providing services, the faith based community. Many, many different people along with the political will in the community to put our resources toward a common goal," said Simons.
Simons says there's a public perception problem when it comes to homelessness. Many of us think of the Hollywood stereotype, the bum or pan handler alongside the road. And while those folks can certainly be homeless, these days it's just as likely to be someone who used to live down the street, in your neighborhood.
"The reality is there are so many people in our community who are one paycheck away from losing their homes. We see a huge number of people facing eviction every single day. And where do people go?"