Affordable Housing subcommittee explore outreach options for greater community

Published 3:45 pm Friday, June 24, 2022

The Oxford Affordable Housing Committee Community Engagement Subcommittee is looking for ways to help the undeserved or insecure population in the greater community.

Commissioner Laura Martin of LOU-Home and the McLean Institute headed the meeting on Thursday and focused discussion on creating a more comprehensive Housing Resource Guide for those seeking assistance, those making referrals and those who do not know about various insecurities residents face in Lafayette County and Oxford.

Read the Oxford Affordable Housing Commission’s Current Resource Guide

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“This is an initial effort to consolidate both the existing resources and another part of the conversation around the continuum of need/opportunity,” said Martin. “There is a crisis from those who need emergency shelter to people who are housed who need assistance in keeping up with bills, particularly due to the inflationary pressures we are experiencing and folks that maybe building credit or building capital to purchase their first home. This is an attempt to encompass those different strings that we’ve identified.”

Since the Housing Resource Guide is considered a Public Service Announcement, the subcommittee said the guide could be posted in or on public spaces like the Oxford University Transit buses or city property for the community to view.

Former City Planner Judy Daniel stated the guide is valuable information but is worried about the lack of shelters for women, children or the homeless in Lafayette County. According to the Housing Resource Guide, the closest shelters in the region are the Red Shield Lodge and S.A.F.E. Shelter, both located in Tupelo, Mississippi.

The guide also advertises the Jackson Shelter for Batter Families located in Jackson, Mississippi.

“It’s just scary to think that if you have a difficult situation that you have to drive that far unless you want to sit at the police station,” Daniel said.

S.A.F.E. will help transport those who require it and the Lafayette County Sheriff’s Department could possibly help transport people to either shelter as well, stated Karen Allision, MississippiCare Community Development Coordinator. However, shelters are often crowded.

“As far as the Red Shield Lodge, that’s first come, first serve,” said Allison. “They pretty much stay at capacity.”

Subcommittee commissioners and participating community members recognized an immediate need for a shelter in Oxford and Lafayette County.

Commissioner Alonzo Hilliard said he spoke with Christeen Shivers, a local retiree who worked with a team to establish a local shelter. Shivers was not able to find a location that would work as a shelter and, now that she has retired, she is ready to pass on the mission. 

“She’s ready for someone to take over at this point,” said Hilliard.

With some discussion, Allison proposed that the old Health Department building on 101 Center Ridge Road could serve as a potential shelter.

Commissioner Marilyn Barnes volunteered to look into the old Health Department and find out who has jurisdiction over the location.

Martin said she recognizes the urgency of this need and hopes something can come from the commission.

“I keep coming back to the scale of this challenge in Oxford and I just feel like we could do something about it,” said Martin.

Martin also introduced the idea of cooling stations in Oxford. She credited the idea to Oxford Community Market Director Betsy Chapman who brought attention to the recent heat wave that swept the region last week.

“It’s something from our larger conversations about having a shelter and the creation of more affordable housing,” said Martin. “Do we have the ability to set up a cooling station? How do we put our brains together.”

There are no current cooling stations for residents to use to escape the heat, however, City Staff Liaison and Planner Robert Baxter announced to the commission that the city has cooling fans that could be used in cooling stations.

“They’ve got cooling fans and all that but the question is going to be manning them,” said Baxter. “You have to have someone there monitoring the fans because they’re expensive pieces of equipment.”

Another option the subcommittee considered was utilizing community spaces like church gymnasiums as cooling stations during the day. Churches are usually staffed every day and the gyms are large areas that could house a good number of people.

“I don’t know how many people were here during Katrina but several churches just opened up their gyms and put in cots and things like that,” said Allison. “I think the faith-based community could possibly be tapped to help out for cooling stations. There are several churches I can think of right off the top of my head that would be open to providing that as long as they had somebody on-site for the day.”

Baxter and Allison both offered to reach out to find churches that would volunteer to serve as cooling stations.

The Oxford Affordable Housing Community Engagement Subcommittee is scheduled to meet again on Thursday, August 28.