By Aubrie Wise
Last week I traveled 16 hours in a packed full van to Biloxi, Mississippi. Biloxi is located right on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico and is cluttered with casinos and huge boats.
However, I would not recommend planning your family vacation there because the Gulf is filled with red tide and between the luxurious casinos, are homeless people, a lot of them.
I went to Biloxi, not to vacation, but to help rebuild a broken land and society.
State of Affairs in Biloxi
Craig Steenkamp, one of the heads of Back Bay Missions, informed my group of what happened to Biloxi that created the need for help when we arrived.
The homeless population along the coast exploded for the first time in 2005, for those who were just children during that time, or maybe are just bad with dates, 2005 was the year of Hurricane Katrina, a Category 5 storm that destroyed the Gulf Coast.
While the government tried to send support to the Coast, the influx of people with destroyed homes, and people storming into cities like Biloxi looking for work in reconstruction caused an overabundance of people without jobs and without homes.
Nothing could keep up with the growing population of homeless in the small cities along the Gulf, and as time went on, people began to turn a blind eye, and pretend the problem was solved.
Hurricane Katrina was thirteen years ago.
Thirteen years, and people are still suffering from it.
Now, in 2018, the government no longer classifies the Gulf as a disaster zone. Funding for rehabilitation and recovery for the people has been pulled almost completely out.
Not only is the funding gone, but the homeless population is still increasing today. People come to Biloxi for two reasons: the promise of work, and the warm climate. Homeless people, just so happen to be attracted to those factors.
The need for help in Biloxi and areas like it is overly apparent, which is why I missed a week of school, traveled there, and contributed free labor in the relentless one hundred-plus degree weather.
Back Bay Missions
A nonprofit program consists of seventeen paid workers, and tons of volunteers, Back Bay Missions organized the trip for the church I attend.
I have been on six mission trips before, but what makes Back Bay special is the variety of work that can be done, including the ones that follow.
On Monday, I went to an apartment complex that had been recently inhabited by a homeless veteran. Back Bay has multiple apartments that partnered with the VA (US Department of Veteran Affairs), houses previously homeless veterans.
The one that I went to had been abandoned by the veteran who had been living there two months prior, and my groups job was to clean it out and get it ready for the next veteran.
Loaves and Fishes
Loaves and Fishes is a local soup kitchen in Biloxi. With three paid workers, and many more volunteers, this nonprofit organization provides the homeless with both a breakfast and a lunch with one or both of those meals being a ‘hot’ meal.
The homeless that I met at Loaves and Fishes did not look or act like I expected. Everyone had clothes that fit them and shoes on their feet, thanks to Back Bay. Additionally, everyone smiled and said thank you. These people who had it the worst off were some of the happiest and most grateful people I have ever met.
Micha Day Center
The Micha Day Center is a local shelter for the homeless to spend day hours in. At the Center, the homeless can shower, do laundry, and escape from the heat in an air conditioned building.
At the Micha Day Center, the homeless are considered the workers’ ‘clients and are able to put themselves on the same playing field as people of means. The Center provides help like giving them monthly haircuts, helping them write their resumes and creating life goals.
The final aspect of working at the Back Bay Mission is what is usually associated with mission trips and that is refurbishing a home.
The work is everything from siding to painting to gardening to demoing (demolition of houses). Over the course of the mission trips I have been on, the purpose is always to help someone else out, because overall that’s all that matters.
No matter how hard the work, or how hot the heat, at the end of the day, the overall experience of being able to help those who have it way worse than I do is what makes a Mission Trip. It is what keeps me volunteering six trips later.