DHS asks Hancock Board of Supervisors for more space
By Dwayne Bremer
Sep 17, 2013, 19:07
The Department of Human Services facility on the corner of Drinkwater Avenue and Highway 90 in Bay St. Louis has barely been open a year, but officials said the state agency needs more space to operate.
Less than a year after moving into a new facility on Highway 90, the MIssissippi Department of Human Services is asking the Hancock County Board of Supervisors to provide it more space.
MDHS Deputy Secretary Mark Smith addressed supervisors on Monday and told them that his department has already outgrown its new facility.
The new Health and Human Services facility was completed earlier this year.
It took several years to complete because of delays in construction.
Meanwhile, DHS continued to operate in trailers at the Longfellow Avenue complex.
When construction began on the new facility on Drinkwater Avenue and Highway 90, DHS had a much smaller case load, Smith said.
"We are in dire need for extra space," Smith said. "When the new building was constructed, we only had 98 children in DHS custody. Today, it is up to 323."
Smith said new rules regarding how DHS assigns children to case workers has created a need for extra space.
"We can only have so many cases per case worker," he said. "We are grateful to have the new building, but we are to the point where we need more space."
The explosion in child custody cases is due to several reasons, officials said.
In the past five years, drug arrests in Hancock County have soared and the downturn in the economy has also been a factor, officials said.
Smith said he estimates his department will need at least 20 more offices and areas for supervised visitations.
He said DHS is actively trying to recruit more case workers to the county.
Smith said DHS is responsible for employing the case workers and will also be able to pay 75 percent of the costs of a new building, he said.
Smith said DHS is having some challenging times in Hancock County.
"Since the beginning of the year, we have had 80 more custodies alone," he said. "We are trying to recruit more case workers, but that is difficult. Being a case worker is one of the most complex jobs in the world, but it is incumbent on all of us to take care of these children."
Board of Supervisors President Lisa Cowand said Monday that the board will try to accommodate DHS's needs.
"We have looked at a couple of places, we are going to try to make it work," she said.
One possibility is the former Waveland City Hall complex at the Waveland Professional Plaza on Highway 90.
The multi-suite complex served as Waveland's government center from 2008 until 2012.
The property is currently vacant, but tied up in a bankruptcy suit, officials said.
Other possibilities include county-owned facilities north of I-10 and other office rentals throughout the county, Cowand said.