OUR OPINION: Resolving homelessness requires innovative plans

By NEMS Daily Journal

Tupelo’s vexing problem with a growing homeless population – including hundreds of children who have no permanent home – is not unique, but it is immensely troubling because no obvious short-term solutions present themselves, and the city’s special task force is focused on longer-term action.
The most visible reminder that Tupelo has people with no permanent shelter is a small “community” living near South Gloster Street, sometimes taking cover under a bridge near active businesses, and also living in tents or under tarps in the wooded banks of a creek.
Mayor Jack Reed Jr. and the City Council have the issue under active consideration, and discussions reported in Wednesday’s Daily Journal include asking the group of individuals to leave and go elsewhere.
But where?
The issue is not simple because the people in the South Gloster group are individually autonomous. They have rights under law just like other people.
Some have said they do not like staying at the Salvation Army’s lodge because it enforces reasonable rules prohibiting specific behaviors, and SA encourages people who are temporary residents to seek employment and then requires paying $5 per day for room and board if they find work.
The Rev. Paul Stephens, rector of All Saints’ Episcopal Church and a member of the city’s homelessness task force, said finding a short term answer is as difficult as crafting a long-term way of dealing with a homeless population.
Stephens suggested that one short-term approach might be shaped through a collaboration of religious congregations who are able and willing to house homeless people in their recreation facilities or other appropriate spaces a week at a time.
The Portland Oregonian newspaper, in fact, in February reported about a cooperative program involving churches in which the city is encouraging congregations to allow homeless people with cars to stay in their parking lots. On another level, Portland congregations of several faiths have joined to sponsor a small number of homeless families in a transition program to permanent housing.
Stephens also acknowledged the work in Tupelo and Lee County that’s ongoing by private groups and individuals who provide food and seek to keep communications open.
The faith community, even with all its resources committed, would not be able to meet the whole need.
Homelessness has many root causes. Poverty is a chief one, and some homeless people are not emotionally capable of living in a conventional way.
The constructively compassionate resources of the private sector and government will be required to address even part of the issue in an effective way.