By Kevin Edwards
BC Staff Writer
Homelessness is an issue in the Delta and in Mississippi, but organizations are at work to do the best they can to solve it.
The United States Interagency Council on Homelessness estimated in January 2018 that there were 1,352 people experiencing homelessness on any given day in Mississippi.
In Bolivar County, the Bolivar County Community Action Agency works with local organizations as a part of the Delta Regional Coalition.
“In the rural areas like Shaw or Mound Bayou, (homeless) are out there,” said Florida McKay of the BCCAA. “They have no help. They have no one to assist them and so, Community Action is the place where we recommend people come.”
McKay leads several of Community Action’s initiatives to end homelessness and chairs the Delta Regional Coalition.
The DRC is a network of organizations that works together to address and end homelessness in the region. There are several of these networks throughout the state.
“Any agency that would be an access point or a service provider to our homeless community is going to try to be at the table,” said Hannah Maharrey, Continuum of Care Director and Bolivar County’s main liaison to the state. “We’re going to try to get them to the table as best we can.”
Maharrey and McKay define homelessness, as used by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, as people staying in emergency shelters or in places not suitable for human habitation.
McKay and Maharrey develop connections and obtain resources to provide mental health services, educational services and employment services to the county’s homeless population.
“What you see in rural communities are people that become homeless that are from that area,” Maharrey said. “And a lot of it has to do with high poverty, expensive cost of housing and just not a lot of resources in the area to put them back into housing.
Maharrey and McKay have identified nine people in Bolivar County as homeless.
Not a large number, but Maharrey said that if it was just one person, it would be a problem and there needs to be steps to address it.
Bolivar County Community Action is preparing for the “point-in-time” count in which volunteers go throughout the area and do a census of the homeless population so funding and resources can be adequately gathered to address the issue.
“We’re never going to receive enough funding from the federal or state government to cover all of our needs,” Maharrey said. “That’s why we do have to go to our community partnerships and our community agencies and ask for donations or ask for partnerships and things like that. To adequately solve homelessness in Mississippi, we can’t just rely on federal funding. We have to kind of use any recourse that we have.
Data is gathered to create a composite score to determine a homeless person’s vulnerability and risk; if they have a higher score, they receive highest priority to have their needs addressed.
Without a homeless shelter in the county, McKay must work with what she has.
“There’s only one shelter in the Delta,” McKay said. “That’s in Greenville. We used to have one in Cleveland and pray and hope in the future that we can get another one.
“We provide rental assistance. We can provide educational skills. We try to provide resources to get any type of employment that’s available.”
BCCAA works with local organizations, churches, and schools to pool resources and intelligence together.
McKay and Maharrey also work with local law enforcement agencies to address concerns and allow police and sheriff departments resources and trainings to be better equipped to deal with a homeless person who may have an issue.
“When we continue to go back and go back, we may be able to ease them over,” said McKay.
“Sometimes people don’t want any change, but you have to continue to let them know that we’re here to help them.”
Maharrey and McKay encourage anyone who is interested in helping the effort to join their meetings.
“We’re not an enclosed group,” Maharrey said. “We’re an open meeting. Anybody can come to these meetings. If you have an interest and you have a heart for serving the homeless community, please come to our communities. We would love to have your ideas and your energies at the table.
Project Connect, a resource event to provide food, medical exams, haircuts and other services for homeless people and other vulnerable populations will be held on Jan. 29 at the Greater Hinds Street Baptist Church on 448 N Hinds St. in Greenville.
If you have an interest in working with the Bolivar County Community Action Agency on assisting the homeless community, you may visit their office at 810 E. Sunflower Rd. Suite #120 or call 6628461491 to talk to McKay or executive director Elnora Littleton.