By Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – The city will create a task force to study the extent of its homeless population and recommend strategies to best remedy the situation.
Mayor Jack Reed Jr. announced earlier this week his efforts to assemble a group charged with the mission. It’s still unclear when the task force will form, how many members it will have or in what capacity they’ll serve.
But the decision to create it came at the behest of Ward 3 Councilman Jim Newell, who said Tupelo must actively engage in the fight against homelessness. Although existing agencies like The Salvation Army feed, shelter and provide other services to this group, Newell said gaps remain.
“Our immediate goal is to provide extended shelter, especially during extreme cold and extreme heat,” he said. “We also need shelter for families” so mothers and children can lodge together.
The Salvation Army has 14 beds for men and six for women, but only a small family area. In extreme weather conditions, the facility will open its gym and let people sleep there.
Others homeless residents sleep under bridges, in drainage ditches, in wooded areas and near churches.
Their true numbers aren’t known, but the Rev. Paul Stephens, rector of All Saints’ Episcopal Church, said he thinks the population is growing.
“I base that on the number of people who are coming through our Saints’ Brew feeding program in the morning,” he said. “We continue to see more and more people coming through our doors.”
Stephens said he’s pleased with the city’s commitment to get involved and hopes a task force can quantify Tupelo’s homeless population, as well as coordinate existing efforts.
Some council members want to do even more. Newell and Ward 4 Councilwoman Nettie Davis support a proposal to turn the old Hunter-Saddler building into a full-service shelter with family quarters, educational programs and counseling.
The city owns the vacant property, located at the corner of South Green Street and Crossover Drive. It had planned to sell it to the highest bidder but postponed the sale while mulling the shelter idea.
Contact Emily Le Coz at (662) 678-1588 or firstname.lastname@example.org.