It all comes down to cost, members of the City Council said, as they heard more about the mayor’s plan for a homeless shelter at the former Beauvoir Elementary School.
A Tuesday-morning workshop was attended by the heads of many of the agencies that provide services to homeless residents. Mayor Andrew “FoFo” Gilich said the city plans to work with these agencies. To work, it must be in a centralized location, he said.
F. Cliff Kirkland, Biloxi’s civic innovation and development officer, said no one knows what it will cost to operate the center, but when the council agrees to lease the school the administration can determine the expense of rehab on three buildings and search for grant money to do the work.
Councilman George Lawrence had the most questions about the cost of insurance and other expenses, and expressed doubts the center can resolve the homeless problem.
“You’ve got chronic homeless people who are never coming out of the woods,” Lawrence said. Mental health is a major problem, he said, and he asked who will pay for medical care and prescriptions.
“We have a cost right now on doing nothing,” Gilich said. “We’ve got to begin somewhere.”
The mayor said representatives from 45 agencies that help the homeless in South Mississippi, who attended an Open Doors Homeless Coalition meeting recently, voted unanimously to support his proposal to open a centralized clearinghouse for services with a short-term homeless shelter.
Mary Simons, director of Open Doors, said her case managers spend 38 hours a month driving around looking for homeless people. There is so much room on the Beauvoir school property, which she said would provide space where people could be assessed, fed and sheltered, with separate spaces for families.
“I have heard people are concerned with the location,” she said. “There will be people who will be upset no matter where you put it.”
The school is next to an apartment complex and residential neighborhood in West Biloxi. She said about 80 people are living in the woods near there and other areas of Biloxi each night.
Police Chief John Miller said his department spends up to $350,000 a year on salaries for a four to eight officers to deal with the homeless problem. If the proposed center could help half the people on the street, “we really wouldn’t have a problem,” he said.