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County looks for homeless options

Most can agree that homelessness is an issue and Lafayette County is not immune to the problem. That’s why the L-O-U Homeless Initiative approached the Board of Supervisors last week about seeking solutions.

Currently, homeless individuals and families are directed to a local hotel for temporary housing.

Will Davis, a board member representing the L-O-U Homeless Initiative, said the nonprofit organization has determined about 250 Lafayette County residents find themselves displaced for a short period of time each year and are referred to the organization seeking temporary housing. More often than not, they are temporarily housed at the Ole Miss Motel, where owner Chan Patel provides two or three rooms at a discounted rate charged to the L-O-U Homeless Initiative.

“The primary problem we have with homelessness in Lafayette County is temporary homelessness,” Davis said, “usually a week or less. What we are hoping to do is try to work with the other organizations that are already helping to address this problem to see if we can fill some gaps or close some gaps. One of the biggest problems we have is where to put these folks. The thing that we’ve been looking at is trying to come up with some temporary shelters for a temporary period. What we’re hoping is that the county might be interested in providing us with some underutilized land, not for a permanent period of time and not for a permanent development, but say for a three- to five-year lease for a nominal fee to allow us to place travel trailers or some other temporary housing.”

Davis said the organization is hoping the county could identify some property and work through any legal ramifications to help come up with a solution to homelessness.

Board president Jeff Busby, who also sits on the committee of the L-O-U Homeless Initiative, said he knows that it has become harder and harder to utilize the Ole Miss Motel because more and more people come to Oxford and book rooms.

“Chan gives us a reduced rate, and that’s very appreciated, but he’s in business too,” Busby said. “And I think it’s getting harder and harder to put these homeless people in a hotel room for two or three nights, especially during football season.”

Logistics

Busby and the board not only had questions about a location to house the homeless, but also the logistics of transportation.

“How are they going to get from point A to point B if we put it out on Highway 6 or Highway 7 or some place outside the realm of where the OUT buses are running?” Busby asked.

Davis admitted that is certainly a problem and is one of the issues that should be addressed.

“I think the first question is to identify what properties might be available and how close some of them may be to existing bus lines,” Davis said. “In addition to that, if we are left with nothing but a place out in the county to get them to and from, then we have to factor in the cost of transportation as part of our overall budget to see if we can make the whole thing work.”

Davis said that 40 or 50 percent of the 250 homeless individuals in Lafayette County are children.

“These are not a ton of people each week so the number of units we are talking about are relatively small.

“It’s an ongoing problem that happens on a regular basis, but it’s not something that takes up a tremendous amount of resources on any given day,” Davis said.

Focus on own

Davis said they are only talking about Lafayette County residents and admits that there has been some concern about “attracting the homeless from other counties and draining resources from our own residents” if a temporary housing facility is built.

“But I think there’s a system in place ensuring we are only addressing local residents and helping to take care of our own,” Davis said.

Supervisor Mike Roberts added that those numbers Davis gave do not necessarily reflect the number of homeless temporarily staying with family and friends.

“It just blew my mind the amount of homeless children in Lafayette schools alone, much less county-wide,” Roberts said. “They’re not being picked up in those statistics because they are bouncing from family member to family member each week.”

Davis admitted the numbers do not include the number of transient homeless who are coming from other places into the county.

“This is literally our residents who have no other place to go,” Davis said.

Supervisor Chad McLarty said another thing that must be taken into account is travel trailers that may be used to temporarily house the homeless.

“We’ve got new ordinances that took effect May 1 and I don’t want us to get caught behind the eight ball on this one if you go down that avenue,” McLarty said. “There are some guidelines we have to go by.”

Davis said he understood and that is why a mobile temporary shelter may be one of the solutions.

“What we’re proposing is something that would not be a long-term use of county property and more or less make it a mobile shelter that could be relocated every few years as needs arise and the county’s needs change,” Davis said.

Busby said the board would take it under advisement and asked county attorney David O’Donnell to check with the legalities of the issue and do an inventory of available property.