Hattiesburg's homeless live in the wilderness, remain invisible - WDAM-TV 7-News, Weather, Sports-Hattiesburg, MS

Hattiesburg's homeless live in the wilderness, remain invisible to most

HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) -

If you would like to help, contact Hattiesburg Hope House on their Facebook page at http://goo.gl/jhBy0 or drop off goods at 207 3rd Avenue or at 1105 West Pine in Hattiesburg.


Chris Wilkes is president of Hattiesburg's homeless support center Hope House and an advocate for the local homeless population. He has agreed to take us out to visit some of the tent cities that dot the community.

"There must be somewhere in the 15 to 25 range all over town," said Wilkes.

The first camp we go to is small, set not very far into the woods near a busy area. Wayne lives alone in a clearing, with only a sleeping bag - he props two umbrellas together when it rains. He is approximately 60 years old and has lived at this spot for about a year, Wilkes estimates. Wayne is severely mentally impaired - his campsite is surrounding by a barrier of garbage stacked almost two feet high.

When asked if he needs anything, Wayne says only "food and water."

The next camp we go to is bigger and it looks as thought maybe eight or ten people camp there.

One of the first men we meet is in his tent talking on a cell phone - getting details about a job application.

"I'm trying to get back on the road driving trucks," said the man referred to around the camp as 'Cowboy'.

When we start talking he apologizes that his camp is messy - wrappers, bike tires and old soda bottles scattered around, built up over the three weeks he has been in the woods.

"If I had plans to stay out here, I'd do a lot better job as far as you know set up and all that," he says, "I'm constantly working on plans to get myself out of here."

During the days the sites are mostly vacant with the inhabitants either at work or around town -  getting a break from the mosquitos and, on many summer days, the heat.

Wilkes agreed to take us out to the camps on the condition that we not disclose their locations, because homelessness is considered vagrancy, and vagrancy is a illegal in Mississippi.

So according to state law, police could come in and arrest everyone who lives in these communities.

Jack is one of the men that live at the third camp. It is set back deep in the woods, you can get to it by taking a little foot path - complete with small bridges that Jack has made.

This campsite is big and remarkably clean - it has a garbage can, shaving station, a shower tent, framed pictures hanging from one tent and a system to purify water.

Jack and another man - Carlos - live here, a third - Jim - recently moved away from the main site and set up a smaller camp nearby. He felt uncomfortable when other homeless people would wander by, concerned that they may steal from the tents or, possibly, be dangerous.

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