TUPELO • As a truck with two mattresses in the bed maneuvered into the garage to escape a light mist, Winnie Ballard just shook her head.

“I thought when they pulled up with those mattresses they had the wrong place,” she said.

Last week, Winnie Ballard was helping her son, Bill Ballard, move into a new home on Ida B. Wells Street in Tupelo. The home is among a batch of houses recently built in that area for low-income renters, with an eventual option to purchase.

“God is good,” Winnie Ballard said. “He does bless.”

With a place to call his own as of last week, Bill Ballard ends a two-year stretch of homelessness, and he did it with the assistance of Mississippi United to End Homelessness, and its local Tupelo staff. MUTEH staff even delivered the mattresses.

“It’s overwhelming,” Bill Ballard said.

One mattress went to Ballard, and another went next door to Michael Carodine, who was also moving into a new home of his own on Ida B. Wells Street.

“This is like a mansion,” said Carodine, who also used to be homeless.

Hannah Maharrey works with MUTEH in Tupelo and, through an agency called a “continuum of care,” does similar work throughout the state.

Housing two men in quick succession, stocking the shelves and providing a bed to sleep on?

All in a day’s work.

“This is just one example of what MUTEH does all over the state,” Maharrey said.

And the work has only become more urgent amid the COVID-19 crisis. But MUTEH is getting more resources to meet the manifold challenges.

Federal relief money will soon be available to Mississippians at risk of homelessness because of hardships caused by the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Stay-at-home orders and social distancing practices designed to mitigate the extent of COVID-19 have triggered record-levels of unemployment. Widespread joblessness persists, even as enhanced federal unemployment benefits are also set to expire at the end of the month

The Mississippi Home Corporation is a state agency and will distribute some $8 million set aside for rental assistance and emergency housing relief in the state. It will do so by partnering with several assistance and aid agencies, including MUTEH, the Central Mississippi Continuum of Care and the Open Doors Homeless Coalition.

“Mississippi Home Corporation has worked hard to help those who have been severely impacted by COVID-19,” said Scott Spivey, the Mississippi Home Corporation executive director in a statement. “This program offers another opportunity to address housing needs that have been created due to this pandemic.”

Social distancing requirements have reduced shelter capacity across the state. Meanwhile, many homeless individuals have significant underlying health problems and are at serious risk should they contract COVID-19. That means even a shelter is risky, even with social distancing.

To reduce the risk and lessen capacity issues, Maharrey said hotel and motel vouchers will be a key way the CARES Act emergency assistance money is used.

These vouchers for short-term lodging can also be used by homeless individuals who do test positive for COVID-19 and therefore can’t go to a shelter.

But Maharrey hopes the emergency relief money won’t just be a short-term fix for individuals who have been homeless for years. The MUTEH models emphasize case management, with individualized attention to help the homeless connect with available resources and meet challenges.

People like Carodine, who only a few years ago was living in a patch of woods near the Salvation Army.

A Navy veteran eligible for certain kinds of housing assistance, Carodine said he’s glad to be in a better place now.

One thing in particular caught his attention last week, as he made the rounds of his new place.

“I like this closet,” he said.

caleb.bedillion@journalinc.com

Twitter: @CalebBedillion

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