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Survey: Percentage of Coast families in poverty rising

MISSISSIPPI GULF COAST — The percentage of families living below the poverty line in South Mississippi is on the rise. That’s according to the latest numbers released from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.

In Hancock County, where the numbers from 2007-09 showed 11.6 percent of families were living in poverty and that percentage nearly doubled to 20.9 in the 2010-12 survey.

“Am I surprised? No,” Lisa Cowand, Hancock County Board of Supervisors president, told The Sun Herald. “The domino effect has got to stop.”

Cowand said she thinks the need in Hancock County is a complicated issue, but one factor is jobs.

“The jobs are limited, there’s no question about that,” she said. “But we have great opportunity for jobs to grow in Hancock County and I think they will, I hope they will.”

Cowand said the WIN Job Center in Waveland, which was the only one in Hancock County, was closed several months ago because of budget cuts, further snowballing the problem.

“Now you take a desperate person who’s out of work looking for money, and he doesn’t even have a spot to go sit down face-to-face with someone and talk about it,” Cowand said, adding library computers are available to those who need to apply for jobs online. “But a lot of these people aren’t computer literate to start with; they need a face.”

Cowand said the smaller community size might be to blame for the dramatic increase.

“It’s a national problem, it’s just more prevalent because we’re a smaller community,” she said. “We’re smaller and we feel the effects much more dramatically.”

The three-year estimates represent surveys from 2007-09 and 2010-12.

In Harrison County, 12.3 percent of families were living below the poverty line for the 2007-09 survey, and 16.4 percent were counted in 2010-12. In Jackson County, the percentage went from 10.5 in 2007-09 to 11.8 percent in 2010-12.

The increased percentage of people living with less in Harrison County came as no surprise to Wayne Elias. As assistant director of Feed My Sheep in Gulfport, he has been providing hot meals for the needy since 1984.

“We’re seeing more and more people now,” Elias said. “We’re seeing a big increase, a lot of people that are homeless, a lot of people that don’t make enough money and they’re having a tough time.”

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