Business owners complained to the Biloxi Council on Tuesday about the increase in homeless people downtown.
“The last two or three weeks the situation has gotten intolerable,” said Chevis Swetman, president of The Peoples Bank.
Groups of people are being dropped off in cars at the same spots at the same time every day, he said. They are approaching cars at stop signs and asking drivers for 50 cents, and approaching people from behind when they are getting in their cars and asking for money, he said.
“Just say no,” he said, and they will leave.
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Attorney Michael Cavanaugh said people have come with their sleeping bags to camp on the porch of his office, even while he was still working inside.
He showed a photo of an outdoor electrical plug near his office, possibly owned by the city, and said a group of people show up every day to plug in their phones.
“This is pretty much a daily occurrence,” Cavanaugh said. They also bring bottles wrapped in brown wrappers, he said, and showed a photo from Monday with a dozen people sitting in the areas and drinking.
Bobby Mahoney, owner of Mahoney’s Old French House restaurant, said he thinks they are openly selling drugs, drinking and using the outdoors as a bathroom at the “bus stop lounge” near his business. Mahoney said he wishes the police would find out if they are homeless, “or if they’re just down there for the hustle.”
Biloxi Police Chief John Miller said the city has seen an influx of homeless, maybe 50 to 100 people, since the hurricanes in Texas and Florida.
“We can’t solve the homeless issues,” Miller said. The police can only deal with their illegal conduct.
Since May 23, Biloxi police stopped and talked to homeless people 2,023 times, he said. “Seventy-six of that number was one person,” he said. “Fifty-one of that number was another person,” he said, so the police are aware there are troublemakers. He said 206 were arrested.
Mayor Andrew “FoFo” Gilich said in May it’s costing Biloxi $300,000 a year to deal with homelessness and it’s a problem throughout the city.
He proposed leasing the former Beauvoir school from the Biloxi School District and creating a homeless assessment center and shelter. The idea died with a 3-3 vote of council.
Two homeless people have died after being hit by a train in the last year, he said. The city needs to continue to look for a solution, he said, not to take responsibility for each of the homeless but to help them find a path to a better life.