OUR OPINION: Moving forward on homelessness vital

By NEMS Daily Journal

Higher visibility for the mayor-appointed volunteer Homelessness Task Force could move widespread but unfocused discussion into a summer of decision-making about how to compassionately, sensibly and affordably deal with Tupelo’s apparently increasing homeless population.
An eviction and dismantling on Monday morning of a homeless camp site on the north bank of King Creek near several South Gloster Street businesses elicited widespread comment, not surprisingly revealing lack of consensus about how the situation was handled.
The encampment of homeless people had gone on for many months, and during that time some business people complained about the homeless and presumably penniless occupiers of the site approaching them and their customers for money, food or other assistance. Seven arrests have been made since Jan. 1 involving the site.
A protracted discussion about evicting the people from the creekside site produced the essential document from an agent of the property owner, the L.D. Hancock Co., and the city moved. Police officers appeared at the encampment and ordered all to gather belongings and leave within five minutes. Then, the public works department sent men and equipment to remove camp debris and strip the creek bank of its foliage, eliminating any semblance of a hiding place.
Dissent and agreement with the city’s actions were almost simultaneous with the spread of news about the eviction.
What should happen now, as outlined by the task force leader, the Rev. Paul Stephens of All Saints’ Episcopal Church on nearby Jefferson Street, includes more discussions among the committee, with the addition of open community forums about the issue.
The Salvation Army has a lodge that is nearby and full almost every night. The homeless could go there, but the particular group of men and women on King Creek did not like the Army’s ban on alcohol and drugs. The SA is not being unkind; it has rules to maintain order among the people it helps.
Finding what would be called a solution for most problems may not be wholly possible in helping the homeless in Tupelo. The issue is people who are free to roam, but they are not free to live entirely by their own rules when others’ rights are infringed or laws are broken.
Tupelo, in an official way, needs a holistic policy, but the private sector must be involved.
We hope that the other downtown congregations – Presbyterian, United Methodist and Baptist – will become involved in an intentional way.
Good people working together can shape continuing action that is both helpful to and respectful of all involved.