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Serving Families Experiencing Homelessness in Mississippi: Q&A with Mary Thompson
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Stewpot Community Services in Jackson, Mississippi, provides thousands of men, women, and children with food, shelter, clothing, love, and encouragement every year. Several local church congregations founded Stewpot in 1981 to assist individuals in need. The organization has since grown to include 18 different ministries. Homelessness Resource Center contributing writer Tuwanna Williams recently sat down with Mary Thompson, Stewpot’s Director of Women’s Services, to learn more about families experiencing homelessness in Mississippi. (Author)

Founded in 1981 by seven church congregations in Jackson, Mississippi, Stewpot Community Services provides assistance to people in need of food, shelter, and clothing. In 1983, Stewpot opened the Sims House, one of the first transitional shelters for women and children experiencing homelessness in Mississippi. Stewpot offers numerous services including afterschool and summer camp programs for children, a shelter for men, a community kitchen, a food pantry, a clothing closet, chaplain service, and counseling.

Q: What brought about the establishment of Stewpot’s shelters? Is this initial need still relevant today?

A: Stewpot shelters first opened in 1990. Three of our shelters (Sims House, Matt’s House, and Flowers House) serve women and children. Our fourth shelter, Billy Brumfield, is a shelter for men and individuals suffering from addictions. Stewpot originally established its shelters because there were few organizations serving this population in the Jackson area. There was a high demand for emergency shelters, and people experiencing homelessness were not able to get their needs met. Women and children especially did not have anywhere to go. While the need for immediate shelter is still relevant today, we now also focus on securing permanent housing for our consumers.

Q: During your tenure at Stewpot, what do you identify as the top three needs of families who access your services?

A: The top three needs of families are permanent housing, employment, and affordable childcare services. Employment versus education is an ongoing barrier for women experiencing homelessness in Mississippi. Many of the women I serve have work experience but little to no education. There are very few jobs in the State for unskilled workers. A minimum wage job, at $7.25 an hour, is not sufficient to raise a family. Families with adults working minimum wage jobs should have their rent subsidized.

Q: What actions would you like to take to increase support to families experiencing homelessness in Mississippi?

A: I would like to see more resources made available to shelter staff, and an increase in the number of networking opportunities for staff. A well-trained service provider can really connect with families experiencing homelessness and help families secure the resources they need. Sometimes it is difficult for families to navigate the system and access all of the services for which they qualify. Well-trained staff are key in these types of situations.

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