Meridian, Miss. As temperatures drop below freezing, one local agency is taking steps to help more people who are homeless find shelter. The People's Charity Clinic in Meridian was founded almost two years ago. It helps meet the needs of locals who don't have a home. Initially the center assisted about two-to-three people each day. That number has since swelled to more than twenty. Clinic officials say the homeless problem in Meridian is much bigger than many people might think.
Providing some free medical care and other essential needs for locals who don't have a home, at the start of this year the People's Charity Clinic had 90 people in its database. That number has since grown.
"We have over 350 and growing in our database." Clinic founder, Christie Rainer, goes on to say that 350 is just the tip of the iceberg. In fact, she says it's estimated that there are anywhere from 500 to almost 1,000 people in Lauderdale County who don't have a home.
"All up and down Sowashee Creek there are hundreds and hundreds of people, behind Walmart, behind Lowe's, all up and down Railroad Drive and in that area there are a lot of people."
Rainer says many people also seek shelter off Highway 39 and along other areas of Interstate 20.
Within a two mile radius of the clinic on Russell Drive, Rainer says she personally knows of at least 60 men staying in houses that have been taken over because of delinquent taxes. She says sometimes these houses were taken over for taxes that were due for what some might think of as small amounts that equal several hundred dollars.
"I have been trying to find for the last several weeks business people that will allow us to go in and open up these closed buildings for these people and let us come in and put cots up, and it seems that everybody's trying to pass the buck," says Rainer. "The churches say that it's the Red Cross, and the Red Cross has to activate for them to declare a disaster. I'm asking for help. I'm asking for anybody that has a business, that has an empty building, that we can convert to a shelter."
For more information on the People's Charity Clinic call (601) 482-8442.
By mid-morning Monday there were about a dozen people staying at South Harbor Shelter. As Meridian's only shelter for families, it can house up to 34 people per night. The local Salvation Army also has a shelter just for men. It has 23 beds. However, on nights when there are freezing temperatures, Salvation Army officials say exceptions are made.