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Mississippi Ranks 49th of 50 States in Addressing Child Homelessness

By Rhonda Miller | Published 13 Dec 2011 11:15pm | comments
Janice Wilson, left, is federal programs director for Biloxi Public Schools, and Coletha Colley is the district's liaison to homeless families.

A new report ranks Mississippi 49th out of 50 states in addressing the issue of child homelessness. MPB’s Rhonda Miller reports on the often-hidden problem.

Most of the students at Jeff Davis Elementary in Biloxi will go in from the playground, finish the school day, and go home to their permanent address. But a few of them don’t have a consistent place to sleep at night. That puts them among about 40 children in the Biloxi school district identified as homeless.  

"Do you think there are kids you’re not aware of?" 

"Yes, because earlier this year there was a situation, we found out a family was living in a car." That’s Coletha Colley, the school district’s liaison to homeless families. "And someone contacted me and sure enough they were, they were living out of their car. I helped to get them in a shelter."

The Biloxi school district has seen the number of homeless students in kindergarten through 12th grade double in the past three years. 

That three-year jump has been same at Back Bay Mission in Biloxi, where social worker Jill Cartledge assists families in emergency situations.

"There is no rental assistance in Mississippi, in this part of Mississippi, any longer," says Cartledge. "So you’ve got a lot of people that are currently facing eviction or being evicted and they’ve got no place to go. And our shelters in our area, the precious few of them that there are, only allow people to stay there a short period of time, and you can’t really get your life together in three or four days."

A report by The National Center on Family Homelessness released Tuesday says Mississippi has 12,000 homeless children, putting it next-to-last in the nation, just above Alabama, in confronting the issue.

Christina Murphy is director of the center’s campaign to end family homelessness. She says the group’s key recommendation for Mississippi is to create an Interagency Council on Homelessness to coordinate agencies and community groups.

"Ideally, that Mississippi Interagency Council on Homelessness would come up with a Mississippi-specific plan around what folks could do to help kids and families who are homeless," says Murphy.

Legislation to create the council was introduced by Senator Hillman Frazier and Representative Steve Holland in 2011. It will be re-introduced during the 2012 legislative session.

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Janice Wilson, left, is federal programs director for Biloxi Public Schools, and Coletha Colley is the district's liaison to homeless families.


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