‘He’s just in a real bad way’|Mission takes on mission to help

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 3, 2010

For most of his adult life, 56-year-old Mikle Smoots has lived without power or plumbing in a series of one-room shacks alongside Mississippi 3 near the International Paper plant. He’s made his living by doing odd jobs in the Vicksburg, Redwood and Satartia areas for years, walking to and from the jobs for the most part, collecting cans on the side of the highway along the way.

When Smoots’ health began to fail recently, he found himself being shuffled between River Region Medical Center and the River City Rescue Mission, said mission director Earnie Hall. Smoots suffers from dementia and is borderline mentally handicapped, said Hall, and has no family members in the Vicksburg area. He receives no federal or state benefits.

“The whole time he was here he was trying to get out and make it back to Highway 3,” said Hall of Smoots’ recent stays at the men’s shelter. “We have used all of our resources to try to help him, but we’re a Christian rehab center, not a nursing home. It’s a hard situation, but we’re trying to find a solution.”

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On Tuesday, while Smoots was back in the hospital, five volunteers from the rescue mission spent an overcast and cold day adding new plywood, wall board, insulation and tar paper to Smoots’ home — a 15-by-20-foot structure made of single sheets of chipboard.

“He needs some real help. It’s just a shame that he has to live like this,” said Greg Dart, who oversaw the work and is manager of the rescue mission. “He really can’t take care of himself, but if he has to come back here, at least it will be a lot cleaner and warmer.”

Hall said some social workers in Vicksburg are working on an application for Smoots to enroll in Medicaid, and they’re looking for a way to get him into a nursing home or assisted living situation. Nonetheless, when Smoots is released from the hospital again, which Hall speculated would be in a few days, he’s likely to be taken back to his home on Mississippi 3.

“We just love him, and we’d love to help him,” said Hall, who added anyone who wants to contribute to Smoots’ cause can contact the River City Rescue Mission. “We know this community is a good community, and we know they will help when they hear his story.”

Unfortunately, Smoots is unable to tell his story for himself. He was unable to comprehend or sign a hospital waiver needed to speak to a reporter, said River Region Medical Center Director of Marketing Diane Gawronski.

“They’ve had a very hard time communicating with him at the hospital,” Hall said.

At first glance, Smoots’ home could be mistaken for any number of abandoned, ramshackle structures along Mississippi 3 in the lower Mississippi Delta. A few possessions inside are the only items suggesting the place is actually inhabited. 

Among piles of rusted cans and bags of trash, the clapboard shack has one small window. Its sagging, rotten floorboards feel like they could give way at any step, and a steady drip comes from the roof — which also consists of sagging, rain-soaked plywood. A twin size bed and fire stove consume most of the living quarters; a few tins of tuna and chilli are the only food to be seen.  

The volunteers from the rescue mission put new plywood on the floors, insulated the walls and patched up the roof as best they could on Tuesday. The day previous they had moved in a new bed and couch, and cleaned out a pile of trash from the home. Among the discarded items was a tattered couch that had literally been reduced to a pile of rusted springs from a slow leak in the ceiling.

The furniture and repair materials were provided by the rescue mission, and added insulation was provided by Warren County Sheriff Martin Pace, McCoy’s Building Supply and Haden True Value Hardware.

“I’ve known him for about 30 years,” said Pace. “He’s always been able to manage out here with the help of some of the neighbors, but as he’s gotten older and his health has been failing he’s just been in a real bad way.”

Next to the home the volunteers fixed up Tuesday is Smoots’ former home. It’s a collapsed pile of plywood and corrugated tin, similar in size and structure to his current dwelling. Beneath the collapsed roof, rotting clothes, molded bedding and rusted cooking utensils sit trapped inside, and it looks as if Smoots simply started anew once his former home fell in on itself.

“This isn’t the only man in our community that’s in this position. There’s hundreds more — he just puts a face on the problem,” Hall said. “We’re going to continue to bring him food and bottled water, and help him out anyway we can. Hopefully we can provide a temporary fix until they get his Medicaid application through and find a more permanent solution.”

Contact Steve Sanoski at ssanoski@vicskburgpost.com