Homeless problem often ignored

By Steve Phillips - bio | email

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - They sleep in their cars, beneath bridges or in tents tucked away in the woods. Social workers say the homeless problem is increasing along the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

They also warn, the controversial issue is too often ignored by the public and community leaders. There was a very visible reminder on Biloxi's Town Green Wednesday.

You might picture the homeless as smelly drunks and drug addicts who'd rather beg than hold down a job. While that might be true for some, they could just as easily be someone who lost their job, fell behind in house payments and found themselves suddenly struggling on the streets.

Under bright midday sunshine a buffet line formed on Biloxi Town Green.

"Would you like some apple or lemon pie?" the casino volunteer from Hard Rock asked the slender man in line.

Scott Williams is a homeless advocate who works for Biloxi Back Bay Mission.

"We're doing our third annual homeless-hunger awareness dinner. It's just to bring attention to the plight of the homeless and hunger problem that we have in the community," Williams said.

"It's going good. I'm having a good day," said one man, as volunteers filled his paper plate with Thanksgiving goodies.

Things weren't going so well for Edward Shelton just a few months ago.

"I was living in Ocean Springs. In the woods. In a wheel chair," said the gray bearded man.

He managed to find an efficiency apartment with the help of Back Bay Mission. Shelton has a message for those who think the homeless problem isn't that bad.

"Yeah, it's big time bad. I mean, you only see just a few of 'em right here," said Shelton,"You got out in these woods. And shake these woods. I guarantee you'll come up with three or four hundred of 'em."

"Victory in Jesus" played over the loud speaker at Gulf Coast Rescue Mission as Director Tom Mims paused to talk about the homeless problem.

"We're here to help people that have alcohol and drug problems and mainly to help the homeless have a place to stay, get out of the elements. Especially this time of the year, when it's cold," said Mims. "We have close to 60 beds, but we're able to bring out rollaways. We could probably sleep 100 to 150."

Gulf Coast Rescue Mission in West Biloxi has been helping meet the needs of the homeless since it opened way back in June of 1965. But you may be surprised to know that right now, the mission is the only place in Harrison County that offers overnight shelter to those in need.

"I think we need more space. More shelter space," says Mims.

Scott Williams agrees.

"There's really no place for any of these folks to go. They're still living under bridges and vacant houses and woods places," Williams said.

Hard Rock Casino provided the meal on the Town Green. By the way, looking at numbers, Scott Williams from Back Bay Mission says he's dealt with 473 homeless individuals so far this year.