He’s been looking for a solution to the city’s homeless problem for two years, Mayor Andrew “FoFo” Gilich told the City Council on Tuesday night as he urged them to vote to lease the former Beauvoir Elementary School for a processing center and temporary shelter for homeless people and families, including veterans.
“This represents a very logical first step,” Gilich said as he heatedly debated the pros and cons of the plan with Councilman George Lawrence.
The council voted instead to hold a workshop at 11 a.m. May 23.
Council members Kenny Glavan and Robert Deming III said they want more information on the proposal and weren’t swayed by Councilman Paul Tisdale’s suggestion that the council agree to lease the property and decide later whether to proceed with renovating the buildings and funding the shelter.
Under the administration’s proposal, the lease with the Biloxi School District would be for 30 years for a cost of $10, with an option for a 30-year extension. The city would be responsible for maintenance, renovations, insurance and other expenses.
“That location I’m just not comfortable with at this time,” Council President Dixie Newman said. The school is in her ward and she said residents called her and are upset about the prospect of a shelter in their neighborhood. Though she thinks the city needs one, Newman said her vision is to put it out in the county, away from neighborhoods, and in partnership with the county and other cities.
Gilich estimated Biloxi has about 400 homeless people. “We’re not alone,” he said, noting Ocean Springs, Gulfport and many other cities have the same problem.
F. Cliff Kirkland, civic innovation and development officer for the city, said he’s looked at homeless programs in other areas around the country. He said a centralized service that individually assesses a person to determine his or her needs seems to work best.
“Biloxi’s trying to draft off successful programs,” he said.
Several agencies already work in Biloxi to provide services, he said, but there isn’t enough of a coordinated effort.
Kirkland said Biloxi approached the school district about the possibility of leasing the shuttered school. “It’s a large campus,” he said. “It is mostly fenced,” and the school district has no plans to use it.
He said it would become a short-term shelter to help homeless people get jobs, mental-health care and treatment for addiction, and there would be security on site.
Police Chief John Miller said his department spends a good deal of time dealing with homeless people, some of whom have addiction issues or other problems.
“It’s not morally right to incarcerate someone with mental illness,” he said.