HATTIESBURG, MISS. – For the past two nights, the Pine Belt saw temperatures fall below freezing and many shelters opened their doors, accepting extra residents who did not have a warm place to stay.
“When we found out the weather was going to be bad, and we found out the 361 Shelter [Forrest County Multi-Purpose Center Shelter] was going to be open, we wanted to wanted to make sure that we got the word out to as many homeless people as could,” Veronica Fleeton, a case manager for the Salvation Army said.
Volunteers with the Salvation Army made an agreement with the Emergency Management Agency (EMA) and offered a helping hand to assist people inside of the shelter and make sure that everyone’s needs were met.
“It’s quite a number of homeless people, even in little Hattiesburg,” Fleeton said.
According to Fleeton, the homeless population in the Pine Belt is often overlooked by many residents.
“Some of them are seen panhandling, but many others are in the tents and nobody sees them,” Fleeton explained. “Then there are others that people see when they go to a business establishment to order some food… People see them there, then they [act as if] don’t see them. They see the person that’s in need, but I’m not sure that [their] need is being met.”
Fleeton believes that small gestures, such as a smile could make a world of difference to someone who is down on their luck.
“These are priceless moments,” Fleeton said. “You get to connect with someone who's broken, and they get to talk to you… and you get to talk with them to see how you can help them.”
The Forrest County Multi-Purpose Center will be open Tuesday night and close Wednesday morning at 10 am.