Homelessness in St. Louis

Teka Childress, Bill Krenn and Whitney Priebe wrote on behalf of members of St. Louis Winter Outreach, a grassroots organization that provides outreach, resources and shelter to homeless people stranded in the community on nights during severe cold and winter weather.

June 18, 2013

St. Louis Post Dispatch

This commentary is directed to the St. Louis Board of Public Service to directly respond to
the presentation of a petition naming New Life Evangelistic Center as a nuisance property. We have a radically different view of the situation than the one stated in the petition. We feel the complaints raised in the petition are improperly directed at NLEC. Some issues targeted in the petition address individual behavioral issues that arise and are not the responsibility of New Life. Most of the “nuisance” issues listed, however, highlight the reality that there are hundreds more homeless men, women and children than the current St. Louis shelter network is equipped to provide for and this is the responsibility of and an opportunity for, us all.

The unmet needs of the homeless include an extreme lack of available shelter space and few places where the homeless are allowed to sit downtown while awaiting shelter. (This has increased with the closing of Lucas Park, the curfew in other downtown parks, new
restrictions in the recently renovated library, moving the homeless from one side of the
bridge to the other to be out of eyesight of neighbors and then moving them back again, the
recent effort to end the homeless congregating at Union Station and the erecting of barriers
on the sidewalks in front of New Life.) The unmet needs also include lack of public restrooms, lack of adequate access to affordable transportation, which greatly hampers opportunity for employment, the lack of shower and laundry facilities and the lack of lockers or safe places where the homeless can store their personal belongings.

While we have some great programs such as The Bridge, St. Patrick Center and the Horizon Club, they are inadequate to meet the needs of the large numbers of homeless in St. Louis. If this were not so, we would not see the significant numbers of people congregating outside at The Bridge, St. Patrick Center, NLEC, parks and other public spaces in the evening while awaiting shelter or the excessive numbers of people who have no choice but to stay at the overcrowded NLEC space. There are also great efforts being made to provide for permanent housing for the homeless, but these efforts take time and demand that a way be provided for those who do not yet have access to these programs. hopeville

We believe that making efforts to address the inadequate resources for the homeless would
be a more prudent use of resources and energy than closing New Life Evangelistic Center.
Any attempt to close down or limit access to NLEC will not only waste valuable resources in legal confrontations and public demonstrations, it will also frustrate and amplify an already serious problem by reducing the number of shelter beds available. It is also clear to us that forcing 150 to 180 people out onto the streets will make the issues that frustrate downtown neighbors far worse than what is currently being experienced and petitioned against.

We are in fact, presenting a petition asking you to reject this short-sighted petition that does not address the true problem. We propose instead a structured planning session that
includes downtown homeless residents, the city homeless services, continuum of care
providers, other downtown residents and businesses, and members of the different outreach groups working with the homeless, including St. Louis Winter Outreach. Our hope for this planning session would be to identify and provide needed resources such as, more shelters, access to lockers, showers and comfort stations for the homeless and the extension of bus passes to homeless people beyond that which is already provided to those with disabilities.

In this way we will be addressing the true issue before us and looking for a way that
everyone in our city will win. We will be presenting our own petition in an upcoming hearing at City Hall scheduled to look at this issue. We invite members of the public to join us in attendance.