Harrison County

Has the Salvation Army found an answer for Gulfport’s homeless?

Former Gulfport Mayor Brent Warr is shown in 2011 while renovating the old Colonial Bakery building on Pass Road. The Salvation Army hopes to buy the property for a transitional living center that would house families, men and women in crisis.
Former Gulfport Mayor Brent Warr is shown in 2011 while renovating the old Colonial Bakery building on Pass Road. The Salvation Army hopes to buy the property for a transitional living center that would house families, men and women in crisis. amccoy@sunherald.com File

The Salvation Army wants to renovate the old Colonial Bakery on Pass Road as transitional housing for families, men and women in crisis.

Maj. Gary Sturdivant, area commander for the Salvation Army of the Mississippi Gulf Coast, hopes the city Planning Commission will approve the plans at a meeting Thursday afternoon. The Salvation Army wants to buy the building from former Mayor Brent Warr and his father, Gene Warr, who have owned it since the early 1990s.

The shelter could hold 200 to 250 beds, Sturdivant said. Families and individuals in crisis, rather than chronically homeless individuals, would be housed there while they receive support to find work, or qualify for disability, so they can move into permanent housing.

The shelter would be equipped with a large kitchen the Salvation Army also could use for feeding the community after disasters such as hurricanes. The Warrs have renovated the building, which has move-in ready offices for Salvation Army staff and support services that could be offered to residents.

The shelter would have play and study areas for children and a laundry room, he said.

The Salvation Army, founded in 1865, plans to call the shelter the Center of Hope. “We have a proven record of helping homeless folks and bringing them hope,” Sturdivant said.

Anyone staying at the shelter must demonstrate they are either looking for a job or applying for disability benefits. The Salvation Army has signed up partners to work with its transitional-housing program, including the state’s WIN Job Center, the state Department of Human Services and mental health services.

Sturdivant said he hopes to reserve beds for veterans, with services available from Veterans Affairs.

The Salvation Army had initially thought the Center of Hope would be built on U.S. 49, where its new thrift store and cold-weather shelter will be located. The cold-weather shelter will give homeless people a place to spend the night during inclement weather, and, like the Center of Hope, will have a laundry and showers.

But Sturdivant said the Colonial Bakery building can be converted with far less money into a transitional living center and has more than double the space of the building the Salvation Army had envisioned on U.S. 49.

Brent Warr said he has been knocking on doors to talk with neighbors about the plans.

“I’ve met face to face with 15 or 16 different neighbors all around the building,” Warr said. “When you first hear the statement of what’s going to go there, it’s very concerning. That’s natural and expected.

“When I heard more and was able to describe it in more detail to these neighbors, they said, ‘Man, that’s great. We’re happy to have it.’ ”

He added: “This is such a good opportunity and an answer to so many problems that are within our community right now. We’ve got a real homeless problem in Gulfport and along the Coast right now.”

Anita Lee: 228-896-2331, @calee99

If you go

The Gulfport Planning Commission will consider approval of a transitional living shelter, called the Center of Hope, where the Salvation Army would temporarily house families, men and women in crisis.

When: 4:30 p.m. Thursday

Where: City Council chambers, 2nd floor, Gulfport City Hall, 2309 15th St.

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