Life on the Streets: Exploring homelessness in Meridian

Published: Jul. 23, 2019 at 6:51 PM CDT
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A local businesses owner told Newscenter 11 he fears the homeless situation in Meridian will soon get out of hand if something isn't done about it. We explore the issue of homelessness in a special assignment.

Roger Jacks has been living on the streets of Meridian for the past three years since his grandmother died. He says he's been unable to find steady work to make ends meet and is now panhandling to survive.

"In 15 minutes I'll probably make about $10 to get something to eat and drink and then that's gone," said Jacks.

Homelessness and panhandling are serious problems in The Queen City and in cities across the U.S.

In Mississippi, about 13-hundred people are listed as homeless and in Alabama, there are more than 34-hundred individuals experiencing homelessness.

214 people were reported as being homeless in 2017 in Meridian, but that number could be as low as 50 individuals according to local officials.

Regardless - it's still an issue.

Local business owners are concerned. A local store owner says he's worried about homeless individuals, vagrants and panhandlers loitering on his property.

“What’s happening is the minute the owners leave, the homeless people are right back out there panhandling, laying at the front door of businesses under the influence of alcohol and asking people for money," said the business owner. "This is a major problem that’s turning people away from our city.”

He's also concerned about a homeless camp near his business under the Highway 39 bridge.

Mayor Percy Bland says the city won't tolerate panhandling.

"We have laws and codes that we want all citizens to adhere to. We're taking measures to deal with those things because we can't have that in our community," Mayor Bland said.

Meridian Police Chief Benny Dubose said his department gets daily calls and complaints from business owners, but says the solution isn't as easy as simply putting the panhandlers in jail.

That's because the city is in agreement with the Southern Poverty Law Center's stance to not jail people because of their financial situations.

"When they go to court and they don't have the money to pay the fine we can't incarcerate them," said Chief Dubose. "Pretty much, they're playing the system."

City Councilwoman Fannie Johnson is the executive director of Love's Kitchen, a place where anyone can get two free meals a day. Johnson says there are many resources available for homeless individuals but says some just don't want help.

"Until we address preventing homelessness, we'll continue to have a problem," Johnson said. "Once they get homeless and get comfortable with it, it's hard to bring them back inside."

Johnson said case workers from a local social services program often visit the kitchen to help get struggling individuals back on their feet.

That's good news for the local business owner who encounters homeless individuals on a daily basis and hopes to see the constant panhandling outside of his business come to an end soon.