JACKSON, Miss.—Putalamus White knew from a young age that her mission in life was to help people. “My mom tells this story: When I was a little girl, we were riding down (Highway) 80. She had just made some kind of pie for my aunt. There was a homeless person standing on the corner at the light,” White said.
White, a young child at the time, had noticed the man’s condition and wanted to do something—anything—to help. “I told her, ‘Mama, we got to give him something.’ And she said, ‘I don’t have any money,’ and I told her, ‘We got a whole pie!”
Holding up the pie, White told her mother they should give it to the man who appeared homeless. “So I gave the man my auntie’s pie,” she said, laughing. “My mom always tells that story.”
In 2008, years after passing her aunt’s pie to a man on the street who she did not know, White began serving meals to Jackson’s homeless and hungry at Poindexter Park. Every Sunday for nine years, she partnered with faith leaders to host church services in the park, where she preached, performed hymns and passed out meals.
“I thought the church was the only place you could do good like that. But the Lord laid it on my heart to start the church in the park and get out of the four walls of the church,” she said.
Today, White serves as the executive director of the Jackson Resource Center, an organization she founded in 2012 that not only houses those suffering from homelessness but also offers support to stabilize their lives. The Jackson Resource Center is currently comprised of a 30-unit, dormitory-style housing facility on Langley Avenue and the Yellow House, a communal maternity home for homeless girls and women aged 16 to 21 who are pregnant or have infant children.
Over the next year, White plans to expand the organization’s footprint with a 60-unit housing village and a social-services facility. White envisions a sprawling village to include transitional and permanent housing units, a gym, a communal kitchen, a pet kennel, a donation center and a health-care clinic on the 18 acres of land she’s secured on Capers Avenue.
“I’m talking about a brand new state-of-the-art campus once it’s all said and done. We’re just starting with the tiny homes,” she said. White thinks the location is the perfect place for the new campus for two reasons: It’s in the neighborhood where she grew up, and it’s where she believes there is the most need.
“This is the community that helped me come up so I’m giving back. I’m going to do all I can to make it look good,” White said. “They say people are getting bused into Jackson and dropped off. If they’re getting dropped off downtown, why wouldn’t you put the resources right where they are?”
Building on 12 Years of Work
Putalamus White beamed as she showed off the Jackson Resource Center’s Langley Avenue location’s salon and barber studio, health-care clinic, chapel, dining hall and laundry room during a Jan. 31 tour. The facility is not what most would consider a traditional homeless shelter, she said.
The Jackson Resource Center takes housing for the homeless further than just providing a place for people to lay their heads at night. Residents at the JRC pay a flat rate every month, have their own room and are offered two meals a day, weekly haircuts or styling, testing for diseases like HIV/AIDs, and Christian fellowship services every Sunday—all included as amenities with their stay.
One of the center’s oldest residents, Earl Martin, said the best part is just having a space to call his own. “Being here is more like a home. It’s not a business; it’s like a family,” he said. A now-retired handyman, he said that he was moved around a lot as a child lost in the foster-care system and that no place ever quite felt like home.
Martin said he was reminded of that feeling as he experienced homelessness as an adult, sleeping in shelters where he had to share his living quarters with someone else—until he got to Jackson Resource Center. “That unit I got, that’s mine,” he said on Jan. 31.
One of the center’s youngest residents, Grace Gordon, agrees with him. She said the supportive staff provides a sense of security she has not felt anywhere else. Gordon moved into JRC after a temporary stay at the Yellow House with her infant son. She said a pattern of bad decisions and traumatic experiences led to her being homeless more than once in her life.
“Really, I was just being irresponsible, not taking things seriously,” she said. “I was young and wanted to be out in the world. And it caught up to me.”
She’s now finishing up exams to become a licensed real-estate agent and credits Jackson Resource Center for helping her get back on track. “I’m really grateful to have a place to stay,” Gordon said. “The people here make the environment better. We all have a rapport here so it just makes it more comfortable.”
Tiny Home Plan Sparks Pushback
The tiny-home project will cost upward of $64 million, Putalamus White said, and she will pursue several resources for funding including grants and donations. She wants to break ground with the tiny homes in 2025.
Although White said she has had support from people who have seen the success of JRC’s current locations, she said she is frustrated with the pushback she has gotten from “a handful of people” who oppose her expanding the Jackson Resource Center into west Jackson.
Ward 5 City Councilman Vernon Hartley has been one of the most vocal challengers to White’s vision to expand Jackson Resource Center in west Jackson. He hosted a town hall meeting at St. Luther’s Missionary Baptist Church on Nov. 6, 2023, calling on community members and business owners to join him in urging the City of Jackson to create a task force to address homelessness. Jackson residents have expressed both concern and support for White’s plans, WLBT and WAPT have reported.
Hartley shared his support of Jackson Resource Center during an interview with the Mississippi Free Press on Nov. 29. 2023. But he said Jackson Resource Center has not considered the potential consequences that a new facility focused on the homeless would have on business owners and homeowners in his ward.
“We have a problem, and I don’t want people in west Jackson, people who are poor and powerless, to be mowed over with changes to their community that they didn’t ask for,” he said on Nov. 29. He said he was resistant to White’s plan because he said outside cities will see Jackson as a place to bring their homeless citizens.
“Once they start building that, what’s going to happen to the rest of the community?” he asked. “Spread the wealth. Don’t just put it in the poorest and Blackest part of town. Put it over there in northeast Jackson.”
Jackson would not be the first city in the country to create a village of micro homes for those needing help escaping homelessness. Austin, Texas, has the 50-home community in Camp Esperanza, a city-sanctioned homeless encampment; San Antonio, Texas, has Towne Twin Village; Los Angeles, Calif., has eleven tiny-home villages across the city; and Tampa, Fla., has the Hope Village micro-cottages.
White said she is interested in working with local leaders to see the new campus come to fruition. She believes supporting Jackson’s unhoused community can be part of a holistic plan to revive the city of Jackson.
“We want to take them out of the abandoned houses, out of the park,” White told the Mississippi Free Press on Jan. 31. “We want to put them in houses and help them. To me, it would help bring back the community as a whole.”
For more information on the Jackson Resource Center, visit reachjackson.org. The website’s home page has buttons for donating, applying for housing or registering for classes, along with details about the organization’s services.