Harrison County

Neighbors tire of the antics near Biloxi soup kitchen

BILOXI -- Ed Gemmill has a panoramic view of the Mississippi Sound from his front steps on Water Street in Biloxi.

He also has a front-row seat for what his friend Ken Conn calls the zombies, the people who shuffle to and from Loaves and Fishes two doors down for free meals on Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. Breakfast is from 7:45 a.m. to 8:45 a.m.

After that, Gemmill and Conn say they never know what to expect.

"When it lets out, it's chaos," said Conn, who also lives in the house that's been in Gemmill's family for almost a hundred years.

Some of that chaos arrived on their doorstep Thursday.

"I was on the couch with (Gemmill's) 13-year-old son at 8 a.m. when this individual comes through two doors, through the foyer, and comes into the living room," Conn said. "That's when I put a stop to it and got him out of the house."

The police were called and they hauled the man off.

Conn said he believes he was given a citation for trespassing but in his mind it was a more serious crime, home invasion.

Friday morning, there were a dozen or so people waiting to get in Loaves and Fishes. One arrived riding on the trunk of a sedan. Two cars left going side-by-side down Water Street as if racing at under 10 mph.

Others simply nodded or gave a muted hello as they walked by after having breakfast.

"This is fairly quiet," said Gemmill, a former city councilman.

"They fight, they yell," said Conn, who's one of the partners in the Triple Diamond Pawn and Jewelry in Ocean Springs. "They have knock-down, drag outs. It could be over a chicken leg or a cigarette. It's nonsense."

About that time, a man tried to jump in a photograph of Gemmill and Conn.

"Move it. Move it. Move it," he said. "Move your camera. Take me. I'm in style. Put it on Facebook."

Gemmill just smiled.

The other side

Like Gemmill, Bryan Morales' roots run deep on the Biloxi pennisula.

He's only been on the job as program coordinator at Loaves and Fishes, which is registered as a federal nonprofit and a Mississippi charity, for 90 days but he said he's made changes for the better.

"There's nothing outside, no trash laying around," he said. "And everybody is moving down the road."

The soup kitchen is clean and tidy even though it had just finished serving breakfast.

He said they run Loaves and Fishes like a restaurant and there are no other services or activities to keep people hanging around. He said people are supposed to eat and leave -- and everyone is welcome as long as the abide by the rules.

"We don't discriminate or judge," he said. "There's no criteria to be here. If you are in need, come. It's not just the homeless.

"Maybe it was disorderly before."

He recognizes there are some troublemakers and said they are working with police and other organizations that deal with people in need to keep the antics in check.

"We want to turn this in something that the people of Biloxi can be proud of," he said.

Some aren't welcome

Still, he acknowledges up to 4 percent of the people that come by are "flat out knuckleheads."

But the man who wandered into Gemmill's home probably wasn't a regular client, he said.

"We weren't even open that day," he said.

And he has little use for troublemakers. He said he has barred some. He also knows that won't satisfy Gemmill, though.

"He wants us out," he said. "And I understand that."

Morales said he knows of no plans to move Loaves and Fishes from the building owned by the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer. It moved there from Main Street in 2013.

However, there probably is a better place for Loaves and Fishes, he said. For instance, the Biloxi school district has empty buildings that are more centrally located and at least one that isn't in the middle of a neighborhood.

"If someone can find us a better place, I'd be all for it," he said.