OCEAN SPRINGS, MS (WLOX) - UPDATE: Ocean Springs aldermen voted Tuesday night to approve a dedicated officer for downtown. Current officers will cover the shift until a new officer can be hired.
Ocean Springs alderman Matt McDonnell is calling for a dedicated foot patrol in the city's downtown. He says mischief in the area is altering a sense of security for those who like to shop and eat there.
Ocean Springs resident Annie Caldwell says the homeless who hang around near her workplace just off Highway 90 scare her customers away at times.
"The female customers get scared late at night, more in the summer when the weather is nice," Caldwell said. "They're scared, they run to people's car begging for money."
It's a problem Alderman McDonnell has heard from multiple people in the downtown area, which is why he's calling for an added police presence. He's asking the board to add a full-time patrol position to help increase the public's sense of security.
"Hopefully, it would scare them off, and they'd go somewhere else. This is a business area, and a lot of tourists come through here, too," Caldwell said.
Barbara Ruddiman with the Lord is My Help food kitchen in downtown Ocean Springs normally sees 50 homeless people come through her door every day.
"There are no homeless shelters in Ocean Springs. The only shelters are the Salvation Army in Gulfport or Pascagoula. We're smack in the middle of no shelters," Ruddiman said.
She said she can understand the need for the patrol, as the city is beginning to crack down on where the city's homeless can go.
"If that makes people feel safer, then I say go for it. If we can afford it, I think that's fine," Ruddiman said. "Ocean Springs is really a small area, somebody on a foot patrol could cover it easily."
Ocean Springs Police Chief Mark Dunston said it would be nice to have the resources to have an officer assigned to the downtown area all week.