TUPELO • The Tupelo Homeless Task Force is working through housing challenges caused by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Between March and August, Jackson-based nonprofit Mississippi United to End Homelessness (MUTEH) housed 21 people in the Tupelo area, Tupelo Homeless Task Force chair Hannah Maharrey said during a Sept. 17 task force meeting. MUTEH currently has eight in the housing search, two of whom are COVID-related, said MUTEH Northeast Mississippi Coordinator Sara Ekiss.

Despite these efforts, Ekiss said Tupelo has seen a spike in homelessness since the start of the pandemic.

“We still do have that goal to end homelessness in the next six months or so in Tupelo,” Ekiss said. “We plan on using a lot of our COVID relief funding to do that because we do know that our street homeless population has increased in the last couple of weeks and a lot of that is due to COVID-related incidents.”

Despite beginning the year with the lowest number of street homeless people since at least 2017, Maharrey said the current number of homeless people is at least double what it was in January or February. She estimated Tupelo has 21 unsheltered homeless people.

Part of that increase is seasonal, as homeless individuals travel to or through Tupelo more during the summer and fall. Recent outreach efforts have led them to find people from the Delta, Memphis, Alabama, and as far off as Chicago.

“We have a lot of inherited issues, and we’re just trying to go through and do as much outreach as we can to have an accurate sense of who’s on the street right now in Tupelo,” Maharrey said. “It’s just something that we have to take very seriously and get our outreach and our housing game tied up.”

In October, Tupelo will start a waitlist to help those who have the most vulnerabilities reach assistance faster. After a homeless person is encountered or completes the MUTEH questionnaire, a Vulnerability Index & Service Prioritization Decision Assistance Tool (VI-SPDAT) will assess vulnerability on a weighted scale and put people on a waitlist by need.

“When we look at a waitlist, we know these are all individuals that we’ve encountered. We’ve verified they’re homeless, we’ve done an assessment, and now we’ve put them on a numerical list with people at the top of the list being the most vulnerable, that will need the most intervention, going on down,” Maharrey said.

Targeted outreach is continuing, and those in need can visit www.muteh.org to complete the online screening form to match them with the resources. A Homelessness 101 2.0 event is planned for Oct. 1 at 10 a.m. for nonprofits looking to learn more about homelessness.

danny.mcarthur@journalinc.com

Twitter: @Danny_McArthur_

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