Biloxi council discusses homeless shelter proposal - - The News for South Mississippi

Biloxi council discusses homeless shelter proposal

City council members raised questions about the cost to the city. (Photo source: WLOX) City council members raised questions about the cost to the city. (Photo source: WLOX)

A plan to tackle the homeless issue in Biloxi is raising questions about cost and consequences.

As WLOX News Now first reported two weeks ago, Mayor Andrew "FoFo" Gilich would like to convert the former Beauvoir Elementary School into a temporary shelter for the homeless and a "one stop" service center that would provide access to a variety of social services.

“There are right now, on any given night, a good 80 people or so in the City of Biloxi who are living outside. Many near that same property,” said Mary Simons, Director of the Open Doors Homeless Coalition, as she addressed a special meeting of the city council Tuesday morning.

Social service workers told city council members that creating a centralized site at the old Beauvoir school would provide tremendous benefits in addressing the needs of the homeless.

“We have all these agencies that work together, Back Bay, Loaves and Fishes, Mental Health, out of 10 different buildings. How much cheaper would it be if we all worked together in one?” said Judy Longo, Director of Seashore Mission in Biloxi.

Gilich said given the ongoing budget cuts to mental health agencies and social services, the problem is likely to worsen.

“As those budgets are chopped, it's driven down almost to a police solution. So, that's why we're trying to stay ahead of the curve. Believe me, as those budgets chop, we're going to get it,” said Gilich.

“A lot of people think that if we gather a lot of the homeless into one spot, that we're going to have problems. That it's not going to be safe,” said Police Chief John Miller. “Well, they're spread out all over the city right now, and it's certainly not safe that way.”

The biggest concern among city council members is the cost. How much and who will pay for it?

“Pay the insurance, pay the lights, the water, all the utilities. That's going to be expensive. You have to staff it 24/7,” said Councilman George Lawrence. “That's taxpayer money that's going to foot this bill. So, sometimes you have to look at what they think.”

“Why not have Biloxi be the ones that can say we have the model? You come to us and find out how we did it instead of going somewhere else to see how they did it. Let us be the champions,” said Kay Daneault, Director of the Mental Health Association.

Regarding that issue of cost, Miller told the council his department already spends between $250,000 and $350,000 a year on salaries alone to address issues related to homelessness.

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