HED: Homeless in Tupelo

CATEGORY: Tupelo Stories

AUTHOR: EILEEN

HED: Homeless in Tupelo

By Eileen Bailey

Daily Journal

The aroma of beans wafts from the stove to greet the men living at the Red Shield Lodge as they return from work.

Standing over the stove stirring her creations, Jode Scalise cooks meals for residents of the homeless shelter on Tupelo’s Carnation Street.

It’s a job that’s special to her because she lives at the shelter as well, hoping to save enough money someday to get a place of her own.

“This is better for me,” she said. “It’s better for me to stay here under the circumstances. They are helping me get back on my feet.

“I’ve got all kinds of friends but not the kind I want to stay with for a long time. It works for me here.”

Scalise, 40, had lived with a series of friends before a landlord learned of the arrangement and asked her to leave.

When she lost that home, Scalise began working for the Salvation Army as an employee in the Thrift Store in Tupelo. She now works at the Fulton Salvation Army Thrift store.

Scalise is the sole women staying in the Tupelo shelter but two weeks ago there were four women staying one night.

In the last two months, the number of homeless staying at the lodge has increased sharply.

Helping the homeless

Salvation Army Capt. Grady Tracy said this time last year there was an average of two people staying at the lodge each night. In the last several weeks, that number has risen to 12. Salvation Army officials also have seen an increase in the number of people eating in the lunch line.

Each person has a different reason for being at the shelter. Some have been without a home for a long time, others only recently, Tracy said. Their ages range from youths to people in their 80s.

People wind up on the streets because of a lost job, mental illness, substance abuse or because of a recent move to Tupelo with no place to live.

Tracy said the shelter can help some, but others don’t want their help.

And there are some they can’t help. The homeless who come to the shelter under the influence of drugs or alcohol are asked to leave because of safety reasons, Tracy said.

They can stay if they come back sober. He said the Salvation Army tries to get people with substance abuse problems help, if possible.

Also hard to help are the mentally ill, who usually stay in the shelter only one night, Tracy said.

The length of time the homeless stay varies from one night to several months. Families who come to the lodge must be split into separate rooms for male and female members.

In recent days the lodge has remained full, and the Salvation Army would like expand the shelter to accommodate additional people.

How many homeless?

It’s unclear what the true homeless population is in Tupelo and Lee County, Tracy said.

Nationwide as many as 600,000 are homeless every night, including 100,000 children, in America.

During inclement weather, Tracy and other volunteers go looking for the homeless to see if they will come to the shelter.

Tracy said four men were living under a bridge in Tupelo several months ago. A woman lived under the same bridge for about a week. Salvation Army workers try to take them any additional food they may have.

Tracy has seen the homeless situation worsen, because more young families are out on the streets, he said.

According to the Stewart B. McKinney Act, a person is considered homeless who “lacks a fixed regular and adequate nighttime residence.”

A homeless person also is defined as someone who has a primary nighttime residence in a temporary shelter.

In a May publication, the National Coalition for the Homeless reported that the problem mars “large, urban communities, where tens of thousands of people are literally homeless.”

“However, it may prove problematic for those persons who are homeless in areas of the country, such as rural areas, where there are few shelters.”

The coalition goes on to say that “people (who) experience homelessness in these areas are less likely to live on the street or in a shelter, and are more likely to live with relatives in overcrowded or substandard housing.”

Tracy said a homeless person can be described as someone who lives with a friend or someone else and does not have a job.

“Homelessness is broadening the scope of who it affects,” he said.

Other views

Other agencies besides the Salvation Army come in contact with the homeless.

Joy Pittman, assistant director of social work at the North Mississippi Medical Center, said most of the homeless they see go through the emergency room for care.

“They are rarely admitted and discharged,” she said. “There is very little we can do with them.”

The number of homeless the hospital sees varies but Pittman said they usually see about 10 chronic homeless people in the emergency room each month.

They also treat transient patients, she said.

Of the homeless the hospital sees, some battle mental illness or substance abuse or both, Pittman said.

“There is no way to get them placed,” she said.

Most that come into the hospital don’t have insurance or money to pay for treatment and are considered indigent, Pittman said.

Major Larry Presley, head of the patrol division for the Tupelo Police Department, said most of the homeless his patrols see are “traveling through.”

He said the number of homeless out on the streets is not what it once was. Most of them, Presley said, have a place to go.

Presley said officers have reported seeing some going through garbage bins.

Mayor Glenn McCullough said the city of Tupelo, through its housing authority, is making “resources available to the Salvation Army.”

“We think the public sector working with the private sector is the best solution,” McCullough said. “We hope this will help eliminate some of the costs the Salvation Army may be incurring.”

He said the city is also looking at other ways to help the unemployed and/or underemployed improve their education.

“If people don’t have a good job or employment they can’t find decent housing,” he said.

Other agencies are trying to help in offering assistance to the homeless, such as the Tupelo Children’s Mansion on East Main Street.

The Rev. Steve Drury said about five years ago the Children’s Mansion set up a space to offer breakfast for the homeless. At the time they also helped them clean up, work on their rŽsumŽs and help with job skills. Today, they mainly help the homeless through the Thrift Store, finding clothing and other supplies, Drury said.

Seeking shelter

Joe (not his real name) needed a change of pace and liked the South. He decided to move to Tupelo.

He has been without a traditional home for five months. Having to deal with the death of a family member nine years ago “pushed me back a little bit,” he said.

After traveling around, he began looking for a job. In the past he had worked for the Salvation Army and went to them for help.

“It has been a good organization,” Joe said. He was able to get a job with the Salvation Army and found a place to live at the lodge.

An intensely private person, Joe said that when he “gets close to a person I move away.”

Joe said it has been his experience that 45 to 60 percent of the men on the street are like him – a Vietnam veteran.

Those men, a majority of whom were in their late teens and early 20s during the war, “can’t let (the war) go,” Joe said.

For now, he’s staying at the lodge, helping cook meals and doing odd jobs while he eventually hopes to be able to afford his own home.

“I would like to settle in Tupelo and get a place of my own,” he said.

Mike (not his real name) was on his way from Greenville to Huntsville looking for a job. Along the way he stopped in Tupelo.

“I was broke and didn’t have anywhere to go,” Mike said.

He first rang bells at Christmas time for the Salvation Army and he now works in the Salvation Army’s Thrift Store.

“This is a real good place to settle down,” Mike said. “They have helped me straighten out my life. I had an alcohol problem.”

The Salvation Army helped to get him into treatment. The 49-year-old had worked with the organization before about 10 years ago.

“The Salvation Army has never failed to help me when I needed help,” he said.

Long-term assistance

According to Tracy, helping the homeless find a place to live and work is one of the goals of the Salvation Army.

“We can give them a place to stay but that’s like putting a Band-aid on the situation,” Tracy said.

What they need, he said, is longer-term care and assistance in finding a home of their own.

In addition to housing, the Salvation Army wants to help the homeless gain literacy and job skills.

Because the need for shelter is so great, the Salvation Army has increased its daytime hours in other buildings, such as the gymnasium. The organization also provide the homeless a place to take a shower and clean up.

Tracy said he has been asked why people choose to be homeless.

“If they were all given a choice, most of them would not be homeless,” he said.

BY THE NUMBERS

– As many as 600,000 people are homeless every night, including 100,000 children, in America.

– In the late 1980s, 7 million people were homeless.

– Fifty percent of homeless women and children are fleeing abuse.

SOURCE: Housing Enterprise for the Less Privileged.

TO LEARN MORE

For more information about the Red Shield Lodge or to help the homeless, call the Salvation Army at 842-9222.