Homeless, some transient, number about 100 in city

Published 12:00 am Friday, May 31, 2002

Roosevelt Jackson, left, and Bobby Barrett passed out at Washington and South Madison streets.(The Vicksburg Post/Melanie Duncan)

[05/31/02] It is a Tuesday afternoon in Vicksburg and Roosevelt Jackson and Bobby Barrett are passed out on the sidewalk, drunk, oblivious to the Washington Street traffic.

The day before, Jackson was arrested on the same corner where South Madison joins the main downtown thoroughfare for public drunkenness, a misdemeanor that usually means a night in jail and a fine that likely will never be paid.

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It was Vicksburg Police Sgt. Tom Wilson who arrested Jackson. Wilson said it was Roosevelt’s second arrest that month.

“I feel sorry for them,” said Monieke Thomas who was walking with her 1-year-old daughter, Niyanna Smith. They passed several men sitting and sleeping beneath Bradford pear trees downtown.

“When I do have a little change, I give it to them,” she said. “They are not bothering anybody. They are normal people. You would want somebody to help you if you were down like that.”

The National Alliance to End Homelessness estimates that 150,000 people are chronically homeless in America. They use “chronic” as a term for those who at least seem to have options, but for one reason or another have chosen homelessness as a way of life.

Gary Carter, director of the River City Rescue Mission in Vicksburg, said the homeless in Vicksburg suffer from a public lack of awareness they even exist. “People just don’t know,” Carter said.

Asked for an estimate, Mayor Laurence Leyens was low. “I’m only aware of two people that are normal residents that are homeless,” he said.

But Carter estimates that more than 100 people in Vicksburg are homeless.

Part of the reason is the moderate climate. Part of the reason is the convergence described in an old marketing slogan for the city where river, rail and highway meet.’

“What we see are a lot of transient homeless,” said Warren County Sheriff Martin Pace. “They virtually have no address.”

When stuck here, sometimes due to a vehicle breakdown, sometimes due to sickness, they need assistance. Rarely is there a single cause for homelessness. “Mental instability and alcoholism play a big part in that,” Pace said.

But while many are not functioning “normally,” Pace said, “they are not psychotic enough to be admissible” to confined treatment.

“Vicksburg has a pretty good network of social services,” Pace said. “But you get into a much deeper philosophical question when you look at the chronically homeless.”

Charles Johnson came to Vicksburg with his mother when she was put in a nursing home. She has since died, as has his sister. Johnson has no place to live.

“I’m camped out,” he said.

He said he simply doesn’t have plans to get a job or a house anytime soon.

“There are those who are very difficult to help,” Pace said.

He said that when it’s cold, “we’ll try our best to locate those that are on the street.” At the jail they can get a shower and a meal, but can’t be confined due to federal rulings against locking up people unless they are accused of wrongdoing.

“Quite frankly, they’re in better shape here than on the street,” Pace said.

But in addition to the rules against confining people against their will, the jail is often crowded.

So after a brief respite, as with Roosevelt Jackson, it’s back to the streets.