By Joe Rutherford/NEMS Daily Journal
The Tupelo Task Force on Homelessness, a city-appointed working group, is on a challenging venture of defining possible ways to successfully, effectively address homelessness, an issue that’s gained high Tupelo visibility in the past two years.
The first public forum Monday night drew about two dozen people to All Saints’ Episcopal Church, where task force chairman, the Rev. Paul Stephens, is the priest.
A guiding idea that emerged at Monday night’s discussion: networking existing human services resources to better serve the homeless population.
For example, Greenville County and Greenville, S.C., both cited as progressive models by Tupelo civic leaders who have visited there, are at the center of the South Carolina Upstate Homeless Coalition, which has a long record of a comprehensive approach to addressing homelessness.
Bruce Forbes of Greenville, an official with SHARE, a community action agency, said networking and using all available resources is key.
Greenville, he said, accesses about $3 million per year from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development specifically for homeless issues. The services include apartments specifically for homeless people, “starting where they are,” as Forbes described it, and then gradually leading them into the services and assistance they most need, through direct interaction.
The holisic approach includes regular visits by outreach workers who, over time, are able to persuade some of the homeless to get the treatment they need and eventually moving toward jobs or qualifying for assistance for which they are already eligible.
Forbes also offered an insight from experience.
“Homelessness turns a lot of normal understanding of life up on its head,” he commented. “You have to learn to be with homeless people where they are even when that does not meet the community standards of the moment.”
Forbes echoed the Tupelo forum participants when he said homeless individuals have unique sets of circumstances that have brought them to their situations.
Daily Journal reporter Emily Le Coz, reporting on the forum, wrote, “When asked to imagine the best-possible scenario, participants envisioned a program offering food, lodging, transportation, job training, child care, counseling, basic health care, case management and accountability.”
That’s a fair assessment of a complete approach, and one that could be shaped to work in the context, for example, of programs like United Way and its agencies. Forbes said 20 to 30 agencies are regularly involved in addressing homelessness issues in Greenville.
Conversations with Forces and others in Greenville might be a good resource in shaping an action plan for Tupelo.