I FELL OFF THE YELLOW BRICK ROAD204 homeless counted in Vicksburg, Warren

Published 11:30 am Thursday, January 26, 2012

Charles Butler lives off Johnson Street in Kings — until the rent runs out.

“I won’t make rent, so I’m out here,” he told volunteers who, along with hundreds nationwide Wednesday, took an inventory of homeless people. Men who frequent the neighborhood liquor store summed up his story and others in the flood-wracked community the same way.

“Yeah, the water done got him,” a group of men outside the store said. “Flood water.”

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“Doc” Schlosser lives in an abandoned motel room surrounded by his personal demons, and his friend, Slim, who delivers beer and snacks to the 62-year-old who’s quick to quip about how he got there.

“I’ve had young people around me and told ’em you’ll learn more from me in 10 minutes than you will people with four-year degrees,” said Schlosser, his cigarette slowly turning to ash. A life spent around too much stuff — all the wrong kind — has landed him among 204 homeless people counted Wednesday in Vicksburg and Warren County in the national Point in Time Count — a 74 percent jump since last year.

Schlosser tells of a life spent doing standup comedy in New Orleans, where he claims his talent blew a budding comic named Ellen DeGeneres “off the stage.” Now, he says, his distractions are bought with a $1,000 disability check — not enough to retrieve his car from impoundment.

“I fell off the yellow brick road,” he said.

Both men were counted as unsheltered homeless people in the count, which takes place on the same day each year in January’s final week. Data and statistics are given to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to determine federal grants awarded to Continuums of Care entities.

HUD guides volunteers to count people as unsheltered homeless if they are older than 18 and found to live in cars, parks, abandoned buildings or on the street. Totals of unsheltered families and military veterans are also required for the purposes of grants, while conditions harder to track, such as mental illness and chronic substance abuse, aren’t a requirement.

“We’re seeing more street kids and families without homes,” said Tina Hayward, chair of Vicksburg Warren County Partnership to Prevent Homelessness, an umbrella group for several state and local government entities and nonprofits that assist in the count. One is Mountain of Faith Ministries, which Hayward heads up and seeks to build a transitional facility to expand the scope of its Women’s Restoration Shelter in Vicksburg.

This year’s increase in the local homeless population continues a three-year trend. Last year, 117 were counted. In 2009, 75 were counted. Hayward said 81 percent of this year’s count were adults.

Continuums of Care groups such as MOFM are required to take a census only every other year. Volunteers swept through agencies known to have assisted homeless people with either food or necessities, adding to the human total on the street. Hayward and first-time volunteer Tamera Dildine visited We Care Community Center, a meal and necessities provider, and factored in seven people reported to them as recent food recipients into the final tally.

“If a 21-year-old comes in the shelter and she’s getting a divorce and has nowhere to stay, then she’s homeless,” Hayward said, adding the local homeless population likes to congregate and hide — against the norm seen in other regions of the country.

“In the (Rocky) Mountain states, they’d rather just sleep out in the open,” Hayward said.

Volunteers searched areas where homeless were likeliest to gather, such as North Washington Street, Marcus Bottom, spots around Elizabeth Circle, Farmer Street and Grove Street.

“Then, you have some people who just like to live in their vehicles,” said Dildine.

Consecutive counts for 2011 and 2012 were taken to keep funding alive for a transitional home, which would be the city’s fourth homeless shelter. The others are the women’s shelter, River City Rescue Mission and Haven House.

Mountain of Faith has dropped a bid to ask the city to rezone the old ParkView Regional Medical Center on McAuley Drive to allow transitional housing for the homeless, citing opposition to the plan by the building’s owners.