Counting the Homeless

An official count was conducted to determine the number of people who are homeless in Lauderdale County.

As part of the effort, homeless individuals filled out questionnaires and were given a special key, or jump drive, that contains information about where they can find local resources. Public libraries, MCCSA and some shelters have computers available.

A count is being conducted through Jan. 26 statewide.

Officials say the problem of homelessness is bigger in Mississippi than many may think.

For seven years, the nonprofit, all volunteer, Feed by Faith initiative has been a staple in Meridian.

Now housed in a church on the corner of 40th Avenue and 5th Street, it provides on average 150 hot lunches on each of the three days a week that it's open.

The founder of Feed by Faith says often the people served at the site are homeless.

"When they come in, they're real low key," said Peggy Coleman, director of Feed by Faith. "They don't want to let you know that they're homeless, but you can tell that they're homeless when you get in a conversation with them, and they say, 'If I can stay around, would you please give me an extra plate?' and I say, 'Yes, we can.'"

Officials with Jackson-based Mississippi United to End Homelessness are working with agencies throughout the state this week to get a more accurate count of the number of people who don't have a home.

The last count was done two years ago. It included numbers gathered from 71 of the state's 82 counties.

"We know that there are not just homeless pockets in larger populated areas," said Reginald Glenn of Mississippi United to End Homelessness. "We know that there are people experiencing homelessness, even in small rural counties; that homelessness may include a family sleeping on another family member's couch. It could be someone who's just going from place to place asking for a meal and for a bed for the night or staying temporarily in a hotel."

Since the recession first hit in 2008, Glenn says Mississippi's homeless population has increased. Thanks to grant money, he says assistance has been provided since that time to help 5,000 Mississippi families retain or secure housing.

"We're not only trying to help keep people from experiencing homelessness, but we're also getting people from homelessness, back into shelters and housing services," Glenn said.

According to the last survey in 2011 just over 2300 people in Mississippi were homeless. Of those, 1,056 were living in a shelter of some sort, and more than 1200 were not living in a shelter.

During that same year, 173 people were reported as homeless in Lauderdale County.