The largest city in coastal Alabama claims police from a nearby Mississippi city are dropping off homeless people, sometimes after coercing them to go.
But Biloxi Mayor Andrew “FoFo” Gilich denies any wrongdoing, saying Biloxi is working with homeless shelters in Mobile, that no one has been taken against their will and that fewer than 20 people have been transported.
A Thursday letter from James Barber, chief of staff to Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson, suggests that Biloxi police are violating the civil rights of homeless people by saying they are breaking the Mississippi city’s laws but then suggesting police can take them to Mobile. The letter asks Biloxi to stop the transports, and threatens that Mobile will call in federal officials to investigate civil rights violations if Biloxi doesn’t stop.
Mobile, a city of 200,000 people, is about an hour’s drive east along the Gulf Coast from Biloxi, a city of 50,000 people noted as a casino destination.
Barber wrote that interviews with people brought to Mobile reveal “a consistent pattern” by Biloxi police officers.
“Although an actual threat of arrest is never articulated, the clear connotation of the exchange leaves the homeless individual with no alternative but to be transported to Mobile or the possibility they may be arrested,” Barber wrote.
Barber wrote that one homeless person overheard a Biloxi officer tell a co-worker he had taken more than 50 people to Mobile. Barber enclosed a photograph of a traffic surveillance camera showing a Biloxi police vehicle getting off Interstate 10 in downtown Mobile on Sept. 26.
Gilich wrote back on Friday that Mobile officials are “misinformed.” He said Biloxi has been working with two Mobile shelters since August 2022 “that offer homeless persons numerous resources not available in our community.” He said only two people have been taken to Mobile from Biloxi in 2023, and fewer than 20 since the program began. He said everyone taken to Mobile signed a consent form.
“While it is true that some individuals have utilized the serves of the Mobile shelters, the inferences in your letter attributing some wrongdoing by our police department are incorrect,” Gilich wrote, inviting Mobile officials to discuss the matter further.
In June, the Biloxi City Council rejected a permanent location for a soup kitchen after complaints from residents.