TUPELO • As the city’s street homelessness rates have steadily decreased, homeless outreach advocates still believe there are more displaced people in Northeast Mississippi who need to be connected with long-term housing – even if that means searching for them.
A host of people representing different groups banded together on Tuesday with the Tupelo Fire Department to use a drone recently purchased by the city to attempt to identify homeless encampments in areas of the city that would otherwise be difficult to locate on foot.
Hannah Maharrey, the director of a statewide homeless advocacy alliance, told the Daily Journal that the coalition’s overall goal is to find people living at the encampments and quickly connect them with long-term housing and other assistance.
“We have to meet people where they are,” Maharrey said. “That’s our big motto here. You can’t always expect people to come in through the front door and ask for help.”
The drone, which has infrared capabilities, was able to identify one homeless encampment, even though the organizers believed it was an inactive site. Outreach coordinators plan to physically go to the site at a later date when the weather is more suitable.
Maharrey said organizations attempting to identify homeless people and provide resources to them in rural Northeast Mississippi are using techniques common in larger metropolitan cities.
“For us to be Mississippi where people often try to discount us, we’re trying to become more cutting edge and more relevant through our homeless response efforts,” Maharrey said.
From there, Sarah Ekiss, the Northeast Mississippi coordinator for Mississippi United to End Homelessness, and others can use the drone information to help conduct initial assessments and determine what resources can be offered.
Ekiss told the Daily Journal that when she conducts an initial assessment of a person’s situation, she asks a series of questions about that person’s current status. The answers can determine how that person receives resources.
Even though the organizations did not find an active encampment site, Maharrey said the next step could possibly be to use the drone to map out certain areas in order to locate homeless people more efficiently.
“I’m interested to see if we can duplicate what we’ve done here to other places,” she said.
Raven Brown, a data collection specialist with Communicare, a mental health service in Oxford, said she hopes to bring what she saw in Tupelo to Oxford.