Projects for Assistance in Transitional From Homelessness (PATH)
Supporting the Mississippi Gulf Coast Homeless Community
Evidence shows that most people with significant and complex disabilities can live successfully in integrated community settings with access to affordable housing and services suitable to their needs and preferences.
In Mississippi there are limited housing resources available to meet the affordable housing needs of the State’s low income disabled population and other priority populations. Evidence shows that most people with significant and complex disabilities can live successfully in integrated community settings with access to affordable housing and services suitable to their needs and preferences.
Our agency does homeless outreach through a grant provided through MS Dept of Mental Health that originates federally from SAMHSA. The grant is called PATH, Projects for Assistance in Transition from Homelessness. It is to work with people who experience homelessness and have serious mental illnesses and co-occurring substance use disorders. The diversity of this group changes as people come to this area seeking warmer climates and jobs they believe are here. We have found that people think there is still an abundance of jobs due to Hurricane Katrina, the BP Oil Spill and the casino industry, which is not the case.
MHASM staff look for people walking down the sidewalks along Highway 90, the main highway running along the beach. They go into parks and the downtown areas, which are typically places homeless, are hanging around since it is shady and has benches to relax. There is a paved parking area under a main overpass in Biloxi that several people set up as their home; others live in the woods. Shopping areas seem to be a place where homeless people gather. Outreach staff connect with people in Wal-Mart parking lots, Edgewater and Crossroads Mall. These areas have restaurants on site, woods nearby and at times people shopping will give folks food. Staff go into all of these places looking for individuals who may be homeless and have mental illness.
People are constantly on the move as they go from one day center to get food, another to get a shower and wash clothes. Sleeping bags and tents are a highly requested item since there is not a night shelter in Harrison County. Our winters are not as severe as some areas of the country, but temperatures do get down into the 30’s quite often. We get a lot of rain and of course have a hurricane season from June to November. The summers are very hot and humid; being out in the weather can include dehydration and severe sunburn.
Outreach workers stop and ask people if they are new to the area or if they need help. They keep supplies in the car such as non-perishable food, sunscreen, bug spray, hygiene bags and bus passes. As the conversation progresses, they try to determine where the person typically hangs out during the day and where they lay their head to sleep. This gives the opportunity to keep the relationship going by knowing where to locate the person in the future and set up appointments to meet them again. Questions that are discussed include things such as medical conditions and history, housing history, their daily life experience over the past weeks and what they see for the future. Furthermore, any family or friends they may be able to connect with; job skills and employment history; what their immediate needs are and if they have documents necessary to obtain assistance with food, social security, jobs, and health care. A plan of action is set up to get people moving toward recovery with housing, health care, food and other resources to give them quality of life.
— We Supply
The people we work with are literally homeless living in places not meant for human habitation. Therefore, we supply necessities such as hygiene items and camping supplies (i.e. sleeping bags, tents, flashlights, bug spray). We also help them to obtain needed documents beginning with a birth certificate, an ID and a social security card. These are items that enable them to apply for a job, SNAP (food) benefits and housing.
— We Build Networks
Working in partnership with other organizations cuts down on duplication of services and makes things happen more quickly. Open Doors Homeless Coalition, the Police Departments, Back Bay Mission, Salvation Army, Feed My Sheep, Loaves & Fishes, Seashore Mission, Our Lady of Fatima and Coastal Family Health are some of the main agencies.
— We Strengthen
Our staff hears these words quite a bit, “no one has talked to me or tried to help me in so long.” Our society tends to look away when we see a homeless person. This is understandable due to safety issues. We are there to guide people, give them resources and tools to move forward to a better life.
— We Educate
If you were homeless, would you know how to get help? Most people don’t. Add a mental illness into the mix and things can be more challenging. Certified Peer Support Specialists (CPSS) have lived experience; some with mental illness, substance use disorders and homelessness. We have several CPSS who work for our agency. Coming from a perspective of understanding makes it easier to understand what recovery could look like.
— We Provide Care
Connecting people to mental health treatment and physical health treatment is important. Many people do not have insurance, so Gulf Coast Mental Health and Coastal Family Health Center are able to treat. We have even assisted people to get dentures so that they could feel confident in applying for a job.
— We Consult
People have lost trust of others due to being abused, lied to or taken advantage of. It usually takes time to gain trust of people in bad situations. Our outreach staff sits down with individuals to hear their story, their needs and their goals. A plan is put in place to get them there. Working together on the steps gives people hope and a sense of self-worth.