By Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – The city can tackle homelessness by unifying its numerous free-standing programs into a seamless network, according to participants at a public forum on the subject Monday.
The 90-minute forum, hosted by the city-appointed Tupelo Task Force on Homelessness, drew about two dozen people to All-Saints Episcopal Church where they discussed the issue and brainstormed solutions.
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.
“If you were to draw a picture of the Tupelo community, you would have all of those things, but they’re all kind of standing alone,” said task force spokesman the Rev. Paul Stephens. “Part of what we’ve been trying to think about as the task force is how we connect all these existing programs in some way.”
Stephens said the city needs a point person who can tie the resources into a unified program.
That suggestion could appear in a formal report the task force will submit to the mayor and City Council this year. The municipality appointed the task force to study homelessness and make recommendations about how to address it.
It’s unclear when – or if – the city will act on the report or its recommendations.
“All the notes are good, but it’s time for us to do something,” said Demetria Donelson, a meeting participant who volunteered the Hannahouse Adult Day Care center she owns as a shelter.
Other participants want to see the city compile a comprehensive inventory of existing services and distribute that list to any group that comes into contact with the homeless.
“We need to know what exists, but we also need to know where there are gaps,” said meeting participant Emily Jarrett.
Another participant, David Sparks, said increased awareness and education about the homeless population is key.
“The problem is a lot of the community is not seeing these people as people,” Sparks said. “We need to educate the community about the problem. Without that, I don’t know that you’re going to get very far.”
Most meeting participants noted the complexity of the issue and acknowledged the lack of any one-size-fits-all solution.
On any given night, Tupelo has an estimated 75-125 homeless people, Stephens said.
The city has one homeless shelter, the Salvation Army, which has been full beyond capacity for at least one year.