Gaston, Ministerial Alliance team up to fight homelessness

By BY RECARDO THOMAS STAFF REPORTER,

Homeless persons in Sunflower County now have an advocate.

A move is underway to find adequate housing for those who are without a permanent place to stay.

Ben Gaston, former director of the Indianola Familes First for Mississippi office and Tuesday’s winner of the District 3 county supervisor’s race, said in a recent interview that he is working with the Sunflower County Ministerial Alliance Counseling Service to develop the program.

Gaston said that it is a Ministerial Alliance project and that he was simply asked to help because he had worked on a similar initiative when he was with the Families First program.

Several area officials including Gaston and the reverends Phillip McGee and Otis Anthony II, Representative District 31, met with Allen Tisdale, Outreach Navigator, Mississippi United to End Homelessness at a Bolívar County action agency’s headquarters in Cleveland to discuss the matter.

"We're going to have a team up here that goes out and identifies homeless individuals,” Gaston said. “Phillip McGee has already identified 15 people to be referred.” Gaston added that it is usually not difficult to find people that are in need of shelter. “When you get one guy, he leads you to another guy.”

In spite of this, Gaston said a local survey was done back in January and only two individuals were reached.

He stressed the essential need to approach people correctly, and the importance of learning the proper way to do the referrals, which he said will be processed through the Warren-Washington-Issaquena-Sharkey Community Action Agency’s assistance programs as well as some veterans’ organizations.

“Because if there are homeless veterans out there, there is a multitude of programs for them, if they are mentally ill, there’s a multitude of programs for them,” he said.

According to Gaston, the Sunflower County program will basically operate by way of the referrals to WWISCAA. A team from MUTEH was in Indianola on August 7 to conduct local surveys and offer training to members of the Ministerial Alliance so they can be properly equipped to find potential clients.

According to him, the training consists of not only locating the homeless, but also assessing the individuals’ personal needs because they all are different. “Some of these people have mental health issues, some of them are alcoholics; the families have put them out because they won't quit drinking or whatever, but we can get them help as long as we can identify them,” he said.

Gaston said there are only two homeless shelters that service the whole state of Mississippi, one in Tupelo, operated by the Salvation Army and the one in Greenville, operated by WWISCAA.

According to Gaston, agencies such as the Bolívar County Community Action Agency reach out to landlords to provide temporary housing for the homeless through grants for up to three months in an apartment, but there are currently no grants to establish homeless shelters where people actually live.

Anyone who is homeless or knows of anyone who is homeless should contact Phillip McGee at the Sunflower County Ministerial Alliance Counseling Service Christian counseling services. The Ministerial Alliance hopes to provide counseling to the homeless clients

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