JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) – Just days after WLBT reported on its condition, city leaders and outreach workers descended on a dilapidated North Jackson office building Friday to begin clearing it out.
Friday morning, officials with various outreach groups, along with the city of Jackson, were at the Briarwood One building on Briarwood Drive.
The building used to be home to a college and professional offices. But after the previous owner lost the facility, it has fallen into disrepair – and has become a haven for the homeless.
The plan on Friday was to reach out to as many of the building’s homeless tenants as possible, not only to move them out but to find them better, more permanent housing.
“Our goal is to offer housing assistance to those individuals who are actually wanting housing,” said Melvin Stamps, planning director for the Central Mississippi Continuum of Care.
Around 9 a.m., outreach workers reported they had only spoken to a handful of those living there, saying several were likely still hiding in the multi-story facility.
“I’ve only seen maybe two or three. Our goal is to actually go [deeper] into the building and see if we can identify more individuals or families that may be in here,” Stamps said, standing outside the building. “And like I say, just try to establish a rapport with them, let them know we’re not here to run off, but actually offer them services if they will accept it.”
Several groups assisted in the effort, including Stewpot Community Services, the Jackson Police Department, and the city’s Department of Housing and Community Development.
“If there’s anyone over here that wants to be housed or wants any type of support services, or wants to go into treatment or anything, we want to take them now,” said Housing and Community Development Manager Linda Caldwell. “We’re coming over here today to let them know that ‘if you’re ready right now, we’re ready right now. Come and go with us.’”
Caldwell said the city will provide willing individuals with temporary shelter at a local hotel. From there, case managers will help get those individuals into long-term housing through the city’s Rapid Rehousing Program.
“When we house people, we don’t just pay one month of rent. We come in and pay the security deposit, and we would do six months to 12 months of rent, to help them stabilize and be able to sustain on their own.”
So far this year, Caldwell says about 600 people have been served through the program.
“Since the pandemic and everything, HUD has allocated the city additional CARES Act funds, and that’s where these dollars are coming from,” she said. “We are putting those dollars to use.”
Jill Buckley, executive director of Stewpot Community Services, says homelessness in the capital city has become a much bigger problem in recent years.
“I think everyone has noticed the increase… especially during the pandemic and even before that,” she said. “There are a lot of intersecting factors that I think are contributing to more homelessness. Some of that is drug addiction. Some of it is people who were already living very much on the edge during the pandemic, just fell right off the cliff.”
“Once you fall into homelessness, it is exceptionally hard to get out,” Buckley said. “And that’s why we’re here today, to just kind of get people started who want to get back on the path to being housed.”
Exactly how many people were living in the Briarwood One building is unknown. City leaders estimate it could be anywhere from 30 to 40 individuals.
Several people left the building Friday when police arrived on the scene. Outreach workers could still hear others inside.
“They have entered the building. They do hear some of the homeless people talking and shouting out,” said Ward 2 Councilwoman Angelique Lee.
Before WLBT left, one worker had made it to the third or fourth floor, shining a flashlight through the window.
“We’re just doing everything we can, until we get in touch with the building owner, to secure the building, to get some of these homeless people resources, and to offer some type of comfort for the businesses that are on the street,” Lee added.
According to Hinds County land roll filings, the building is owned by Briarwood Realty Holding LLC. The Great Neck, N.Y.-company acquired the property in 2021.
Briarwood Realty Holding is associated with Kohan Retail Investment Group, which owns the Vicksburg Mall, according to Kohan’s website.
Kohan, meanwhile, has been criticized for its business practices.
According to a March 27, 2022, article in the Buffalo News, numerous properties purchased by Kohan had fallen into disrepair, including the Woodville Mall in Ohio, the Lincoln Mall in Illinois, and the Northland Mall in Minnesota.
Other properties had power shut off due to unpaid bills. In March 2019, MassLive reported that the Berkshire Mall was closed for at least a week after the owner left utility bills unpaid.
At Briarwood One, the underground car park filled with water and debris after the electricity there was shut off. Stagnant water was several feet deep, while trash and other debris had collected near the water’s edge.
The city began receiving calls about the building’s condition in April.
Lee said crews will likely clean up the property once one of its maintenance trucks is again working. “Unfortunately, the city of Jackson has no working trucks right now,” she said. “So, as soon as we get one truck working, we’ll have them come back out and pick up the debris.”
“We did notice that there’s a lot of illegal dumping going on, as well as a lot of the office supplies and equipment being dragged out of the building and just strewn all over the parking lot.”
Lee said she also plans to work with the administration to secure the building and possibly block off the entrances to its parking lot. A hole in a fence behind the property also will have to be closed off to block another access point, she said.
As for reaching the owners, the councilwoman has had little success.
WLBT also has not been able to reach the owners, either through phone or email.
“We did find their phone number. I know have called, even my office has called numerous times,” Lee said. “We’ll have to address them in court, maybe their agents.”
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