Officials: Area needs homeless shelter

Published 12:10 am Saturday, December 21, 2019

NATCHEZ — On Thursday morning a homeless man allegedly took desperate measures to get shelter from the frigid temperatures by breaking windows in the front of the Adams County Sheriff’s office to get arrested and put in a warm jail cell.

Adams County Sheriff Travis Patten said the incident “shows the need for some kind of shelter for the homeless.”

Indeed, Natchez and Adams County do not have a homeless shelter or a shelter for people to take refuge from cold weather.

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Adams County Emergency Management Agency Director Robert Bradford Sr. said the agency sometimes opens the Adams County Safe Room as shelter during weather events, but the resources are limited.

“It depends on what it is and the situation,” Bradford said, “how many people we’ve got coming there and how long the temperature is going to be below freezing.”

Bradford said in the event of isolated incidents such as Wednesday night, which with a low of 41 degrees did not dip below freezing, the emergency management agency would not have opened the shelter.

“We don’t have the staff to open or maintain it on a volunteer basis,” Bradford said. “We can do it for a little while . . . if the temperatures are going to be below freezing like three or four days, we will open it up, but for isolated incidents of one or two nights, we normally don’t. That’s due to the staffing.”

Bradford said in some instances the emergency agency will turn to the Red Cross or Catholic Charities to help people.

Bradford said in 2018 after an extended hard freeze affected Adams County and the safe room was open for several days to house people, the emergency management agency brought up the need for a homeless shelter to the Adams County Board of Supervisors and the Natchez Mayor and Board of Aldermen.

“We did have an exploratory committee to look into trying to provide a shelter here in Natchez and Adams County,” Bradford said, adding the plans eventually fell by the wayside. “Anything like that, you’ve got to have community buy in . . . that never happened.”

American Red Cross Southwest Mississippi Chapter Disaster Program Manager Debra Davis said she was a part of the exploratory committee.

“We did have a meeting,” Davis said, “with a couple of the city aldermen on last year, and I think they were trying to get to the point of identifying a building and writing a grant to be able to secure a building. In Natchez we just don’t have a homeless shelter.”

Davis said a building never came into play and that the Red Cross does not typically provide homeless shelters.

“At the American Red Cross most of the time it is if it is a disaster,” Davis said. “Most of the time, it is if it is a hurricane or a big apartment fire then we try to work with our shelters that we have partnerships with to open up, but not cold weather shelters.”

Natchez Ward 4 Alderwoman Felicia Irving also was a member of the exploratory committee.

“We did meet . . . met on several times,” Irving said. “It has been a while since we have met, and we were pretty consistent initially. We were just trying to find a location that would be able to house both genders along with children of both genders.”

Irving said the committee never had any funds.

“We were hoping that it would be something donated to us so that we could get established with a 501(c)(3),” Irving said. “We were working on that as well.”

Iriving said she realizes the need for a homeless shelter exists in Adams County.

“We ran into a situation where we were told that we didn’t really have a need because we were told we did not have very many homeless people here,” Irving said, adding local charity groups had only identified 10 people as being homeless in Adams County at the time. “We know that not to be true. We have lots of homeless people here. Go out by Walmart and you see the tents set up. We know some have migrated to the area. Some are our own local people who are homeless. They are living in our blighted properties. They are doing a number of things to seek shelter because it is cold. I’m hoping now that we can reach back out.”

Irving said she hopes Thursday’s incident will bring the issue back to the forefront.

“There is not a whole lot that I as one person can do, but we can all put our great minds together and come up with solutions,” Irving said. “I hope that we do in the very near future address a lot of issues. That brings me again to a lot of social services that need to be afforded to individuals.”