Miss. homeless agencies plan 2016 census

Staff Writer

Multiple agencies across Mississippi will conduct a homelessness census in 71 counties—including Oktibbeha County—in 2016. The study will survey shelters, agencies and local groups between Jan. 25 to 29 to determine county homelessness counts.

The "Point in Time Count" study is given to Congress bi-annually, according to Mississippi Balance of State coordinator Reginald Glenn. The MBS is an extension of all state homeless service providers in Mississippi.

"The Point in Time count is actually an initiative by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development that requires every two years for us to count the trends of homelessness," Glenn said. "But our group counts annually to keep an idea of the trends within our particular jurisdiction."

In the last three years, snapshot studies in Mississippi found there were 2,815 homeless statewide, in shelters or elsewhere across the state, according to PTC data. The numbers may not represent the entire scope of homelessness in Mississippi, but the study provides needed information for lawmakers in determining funding for state agencies, Glenn said.

"These snapshot counts offer communities a powerful tool to gauge their homeless challenge and to create innovative housing solutions in response," said advocate Kathy Garner in a MBS news release. "The count will be especially important this year as we look towards contributing to the national goals of ending Veteran, chronic, child and family homelessness."

Since 2013—when county statistics were first reported—there have been seven sheltered or unsheltered persons in Oktibbeha County, the data claimed. Statewide, numbers have decreased from 1,052 in 2013 to 809 in 2015.

"We are in an era where it's data driven and it's more competitive," Glenn said. "People want to know the numbers don't lie in relation to how funds are allocated."

Following the 2010 Opening Doors legislation—a law outlining specific goals in the fight to eradicate homelessness in the 21st century—rates across Mississippi dropped, Glenn said.

"For those wanting to be housed and helped, we will help of many of those people as we can," Glenn said. "We've made some huge moves in the state and federally."

The goal of the legislation is to achieve a "functional zero" total of homeless persons across the country, ending veteran homelessness and reducing family homelessness. The functional zero total represents a realistic goal for state agencies in reducing the number of at-risk individuals, he said.

"The idea of functional zero is we know there are people who are homeless and don't want to be served or have a permanent housing residence," Glenn said. "Then there are people who want access to housing but have barriers that need to be crossed to get them out of being homeless."

Through a "Rapid Rehousing" campaign, MBS is moving at-risk residents into newly leased apartments while providing support for individuals as they look for work, he said.

"We need services and processes—a coordinated entity—to be able to rapidly move the person from homelessness into a secure hosting situation," Glenn said. "It's a transition towards stability."

Along with MBS, Mississippi United to End Homelessness works with individuals to pay their security deposit and first month's rent, he added.

"We are making strides," Glenn said. "It takes time. No transition is perfect."

To view 2015's study, visit msbos.org