OUR OPINION: City Council discusses a plan for kids and homeless

By NEMS Daily Journal

The Tupelo City Council’s discussion of a plan to purchase the former Salvation Army After School Program building at a reduced price, with the Army using the proceeds to expand its homeless shelter, positively addresses with significant potential two important community issues.
Nothing has been decided, and no votes have been taken, but legal, confidential discussions about addressing the necessity of more space for the homeless, and more program space for the highly successful Police Athletic League have been ongoing for some time.
A city investment purchase of The Salvation Army facility that’s part of the Link Centre campus and renovation of the building for the growing PAL could accomplish a double-good.
The league is a mentored program of athletics staffed almost wholly by volunteer policemen and firemen. It’s currently located in an 8,500-square-foot building on Robert E. Lee Drive.
Moving it into the building currently owned by The Salvation Army, a block off West Main behind the Link Centre, would double the space available for the PAL program, which has made a difference in the lives of many at-risk youths in the city.
The Salvation Army has done stellar work in Tupelo for the homeless, families in distress and, for a time, an after-school recreation program. But The Salvation Army saw reduced contributions after the recession hit, which required closing its after-school recreation program, leaving it with a facility it does not need.
The Salvation Army does need to expand its 20-person-capacity homeless shelter, which is consistently at capacity. The thinking is that an expanded shelter could meet some of the unmet needs of the homeless.
The Rev. Tom Groome, whose downtown congregation, First Presbyterian, is officially engaged with other churches, church leaders and civic leaders about the homelessness issue, said he thinks the discussion has strong possibilities.
Mayor Jack Reed Jr. said he believes the plan, if enacted, would become a triple win: for the Police Athletic League, for The Salvation Army and the homelessness cause, and for the neighborhoods on both sides of West Main Street near the proposed athletic league facility. PAL operates out of a leased facility in a commercial district.
Strongly supportive comments have been offered by SA Advisory Board Chairman Dan Franklin and PAL board chairman Michael Gratz.
The deal carries a potential $1 million price tag for the city, but Reed said he thinks the project would cost much less.
Specifics can be decided later; continue this positive discussion.

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