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Homelessness to be addressed again

After the Great Recession, Oxford’s homelessness problem became harder to ignore as the few organizations serving the less fortunate were swamped with people needing help.

Those same organizations, like Interfaith Compassion Ministry, kept people off the streets, which just made the problem easier for most people to ignore.

In 2010, former Mayor Richard Howorth formed the Oxford Homeless Task Force that was tasked with investigating and researching the area’s growing homeless and displaced persons population.

From this committee and under the leadership of chairwoman Jean Shaw, services were improved and new programs were developed to address the problems. Doors of Hope Transition Ministries and More Than a Meal were two of the programs created.

“We believe it is time to come together, again,” said Sherry Williams-Jenkins, chairwoman of the Doors of Hope board of directors.

Doors of Hope offers families a place to live at no cost. During their stay at the apartment, the family is expect to account for every penny they spend and a portion of their paycheck is taken each week and put into a savings account. They are given classes on how to budget properly and taught how to avoid unnecessary spending. After the family completes the program, savings goes toward a permanent place to live to cover security deposits and the first month of rent.

The U.S. Census Bureau reports Lafayette County’s poverty rate at 25.9 percent.

“Without a collaborative effort to address the causes and implications of homelessness in LOU, we know that children, individuals, families and our community will suffer and the problem will expand,” Williams-Jenkins said.

Doors of Hope Transition Ministries, in collaboration with United Way of Oxford and Lafayette County, the McLean Institute for Public Service and Community Engagement, and other partners, is planning a 2016 LOU Summit to End Homelessness from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Thursday at St. Andrew’s United Methodist Church in the fellowship hall.

This event will bring together the many nonprofits, churches and public entities already serving the homeless population, as well as others who may be able to join in the effort.

Lunch will be provided for those who register by Tuesday.

Margaret Burnett, associate pastor of Outreach Ministries at Idlewild Presbyterian Church in Memphis, will open the summit. She will reflect on her work with homeless individuals in Midtown Memphis and the role of relationships in the coordination of services and program development.

Numerous agencies serving individuals and families who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless will give short updates on their work and programming. The agencies will be divided into panels that address different aspects of the problem.

Those attending will then break into groups to identify strengths, weaknesses, gaps in service, opportunities and barriers in the community’s fight against homelessness.

After the group discussions, participants will prioritize the most important short-term and long-term issues for the community to address.

Williams-Jenkins said goals of the summit include helping agencies develop new programming based on the community’s needs, encourage discussions with existing agencies to see where they can collaborate with each other and have information to share with public officials, organizations and community menbers on the current state of affairs and issues facing Oxford and Lafayette County’s lower income community members.

For more information or to register, send an email to LOUHomeless@gmail.com or 662-234-1100.