HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - The USM Institute for Disability Studies and Project Recovery are trying to put a face on the problem of homelessness in the Pine Belt during National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week.
According to the institute, in January, an annual point in time count of the homeless revealed 188 homeless people living in the Pine Belt.
"Our program Project Recovery, we work with homeless families with children, and we assist them with three months rent and also with their security deposit," said Demetra Bates from the institute.
The institute said it has placed 78 families in homes so far in 2015. Thursday's "Voices of Homelessness" allowed formerly homeless families share their stories, families like Kimberly Baylis and her four children.
"You have to really know and believe that you can do better, but the first thing is, don't make permanent out of a temporary situation," Baylis said. "Today I'm housed. I have a job."
Bates said, "We're just trying to bring more awareness to the community about homelessness in itself, and we're trying to work with different agencies as well so we can, hopefully, end homelessness."
The City of Hattiesburg is one of those agencies, with Mayor Johnny DuPree presenting a proclamation to the institute Thursday night.
"National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week, we encourage, as the Mayor of the City of Hattiesburg, proclaim Nov. the 14 to the 22 this year," DuPree read from the proclamation. "And we encourage all citizens to recognize as many people who don't have housing and need support from all of our citizens and private and public non-profit services."
Mayor DuPree is one of almost 900 mayors involved in the White House's "Mayor's Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness" in cities across the country in 2015. He says, so far Hattiesburg is on track.
Bates said she hopes community events like "Voices of Homelessness" help the general public understand homelessness.
"Homelessness has several faces,' Bates said. "Our life can change at any given time. You could have everything in one day, and then the next day, it can all end."
As part of National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week, Bates said the institute is holding a household items drive for its clients. For information about where to drop off items, contact the USM Institute for Disability Studies.