Building on its mission to serve the homeless population in Northeast Mississippi, the Salvation Army’s efforts over the past several years come to fruition today with the completion of a new shelter and reopening of the community center and soup kitchen.

The new shelter – the Jim Ingram Red Shield Lodge – is named after former businessman and National Guard general Jim Ingram, who was instrumental in bringing the Salvation Army to Tupelo. The lodge will accommodate 50 people, including families who need a place to stay, while the kitchen will allow the Salvation Army to feed 100 people twice a day, as reported by Daily Journal staff writer Michaela Gibson Morris.

The homeless population in our area deserves the community’s attention and the new shelter is only one of several initiatives throughout the region aimed at addressing this issue and making concerted efforts to help those in need.

A recent decision by the Lee County Library’s Board of Trustees to authorize a curfew from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., to promote security and keep a clean and safe environment, according to the library’s director, was met with a mix of reactions because of the impact on some homeless individuals who have stayed in the parking area throughout the night.

The challenge now revolves around the group of individuals who have to leave and go elsewhere because Tupelo does not have any emergency, overnight shelters.

The Library is located along a corridor of services and agencies that provide assistance to the impoverished, including the homeless. Hannah Maharrey chairs the city of Tupelo’s Homeless Task Force, which seeks to coordinate local non-profits, churches and aid agencies that assist or house the local individuals without housing.

This problem is not unique to Tupelo, and city officials and the community continue to work toward more solutions. These efforts have contributed to a modest downturn in the city’s homeless numbers, according to a recent survey, the 2019 PIT (Point in Time) Count – Mississippi Continuum of Care.

In January 2019, a homeless census identified 62 homeless people in Tupelo. In January, 2018, a homeless census identified 78 homeless people within the city, compared to six months later when the number was 44.

This annual effort to count the homeless population provides information needed for certain federal grant funds, while providing useful benchmarks for Tupelo. To complement its work, the city partners with Mississippi United to End Homelessness, based out of Jackson, who link willing homeless individuals with various available housing subsidies and any relevant treatment options in an effort to stabilize those individuals.

The Salvation Army’s new shelter became a reality because a group of area businessmen organized a capital campaign, with backing from the city of Tupelo and Lee County, to fully fund the project.

Homelessness has many root causes and there’s no guarantee that “there, but for the grace of God, go I.” We have seen evidence that addressing homelessness improves lives and strengthens the health and well being of our community.

Well-coordinated efforts by volunteers, medical and religious groups are necessary to continue decreasing the number of homeless in our region. These efforts require commitment and perseverance and will need the support of a village.

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