Hattiesburg mayor proposes new homelessness, panhandling initiatives

Hattiesburg mayor proposes new homelessness, panhandling initiatives
The two initiatives are on the Hattiesburg City Council's agenda for Tuesday night's meeting. (Source: WDAM)

HATTIESBURG, Miss. (WDAM) - The City of Hattiesburg is considering two initiatives to address homelessness and panhandling in the Hub City.

Mayor Toby Barker announced Monday the initiatives will be discussed by City Council during Monday’s agenda meeting and voted on during Tuesday’s meeting.

The first initiative is the proposed creation of a resource center to connect homeless individuals to the help they may need. The city will partner with Pine Belt Mental Healthcare Resources, who recently received a $180,000 grant from the Mississippi Department of Mental Health to open a resource center for the homeless.

“This resource center will allow for drop-ins from those individuals who are homeless,” Barker said. “Using the person-centered recovery model, this resource center affords individuals access to community services such as mental health treatment as well as job training. It also strengthens the connection to resources the city is already leveraging through Pine Belt Mental Health, such as the city’s Behavioral Health Court, our CIT [Crisis Intervention] training program for our officers, as well as access to substance abuse treatment.”

Barker said Pine Belt Mental Health will dedicate four employees to assist the homeless individuals, including one case manager, one clinician and two peer-support specialists.

The proposed resource center would be located in part of the old Courtesy Ford building on West Pine Street, which the city signed a letter of intent to purchase for its public safety maintenance facility. The official purchase of the building will be on the City Council meeting agenda during Tuesday’s meeting.

Barker said the city has reached a preliminary agreement, subject to the Council’s approval, to allow Pine Belt Mental Health to lease part of the building for the resource center.

“This represents a real, practical effort from the city and its partners to give individuals opportunities to access services and move into more stable situations,” Barker said.

The second initiative is a proposed ordinance strengthening the city’s regulations on panhandling. If approved by City Council, the ordinance would prohibit panhandling at intersections, parks, bus stops, banks and near ATMs. The ordinance would go into effect in early September.

Barker said the Hattiesburg Police Department has created an official homeless liaison coordinator to oversee implementation and training of officers and dispatch regarding the revised ordinance and partner with Pine Belt Mental Health to connect those seeking help with available resources. The coordinator will also work across departments with Court and Code Enforcement.

Press Conference about Homelessness & Panhandling

This morning, Mayor Toby Barker was joined by representatives from Hattiesburg Police Department (Official) and Pine Belt Mental Healthcare Resources to discuss two initiatives that will help meet challenges around homelessness and panhandling. During tonight's Hattiesburg City Council meeting, a work session presentation will go over the creation of a resource center that will connect homeless individuals to the help they may need. This is a real, practical and collaborative effort to give individuals more opportunities to access services and move into more stable situations. Also on this week's council agenda is an updated ordinance regarding solicitation that will toughen the city's regulations on panhandling. If approved by the Council, these changes will go into effect in early September and prohibit panhandling at intersections, parks, banks and ATMs. Additionally, HPD has created a position that will oversee implementation, officer/dispatch training regarding the revised ordinance and partner with the resource center to connect those seeking help with available resources. This position will also work across departments with Court and Code Enforcement as needed. Together, it is our hope that these two initiatives will work in tandem to directly address challenges pertaining to both homelessness and panhandling.

Posted by City of Hattiesburg-Government on Monday, August 5, 2019

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