GULFPORT, Miss. (WLOX) - Gulfport Police Chief Leonard Papania is serious about ending homelessness with his new effort: the Homeless to Housing Hub program.
On Friday, he took WLOX on a tour of homeless camps to illustrate the need.
“To allow people to live in those conditions and perpetuate it, I think it’s wrong,” he said. “Nobody benefits from that.”
Papania is not looking for temporary solutions, and training is the key.
“We lack giving our officers the right resources when we ask them to go out and do certain things,” he said.
Even so, dealing with homeless is a major part of an officer’s responsibility, and he’s out to change the dynamic with a holistic approach.
“The intention is giving our officers a direct connection to resources that can lead to solving the unsheltered homelessness for those individuals who want to do it," Papania said.
The Homeless to Housing Hub will create teams of officers and representatives of social services organization to give police better tools when dealing with the homeless.
“You know, you don’t want to just put a quick fix on it,” Papania said. “You’d like to know you’re connecting them to resources that has the potential of solving some issues. So that’s what attracted our agency to doing something bigger and better.”
Papania said it will take more than one officer or one agency to solve the problem.
He admits that flies in the face of what is expected of police.
“Just like society expects us to fix everything,” Papania added. “Kind of deep down, that’s how we feel on the inside too. We want to fix everything, and the reality is we can’t.”
Papania added he has selected eight officers to train with leaders of the Open Doors Coalition, Mental Health Association of South Mississippi, Goodwill, Salvation Army and Feed My Sheep.