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Lawyers drop suit over now-cleared homeless encampment in downtown St. Louis

Lawyers drop suit over now-cleared homeless encampment in downtown St. Louis

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ST. LOUIS — Lawyers for a woman who had lived at a downtown homeless camp said Thursday that they dropped their federal lawsuit, citing the clearance of the camp and their client’s placement in temporary housing.

The ArchCity Defenders law firm said many people who had lived in tents at Poelker Park along Market Street still don’t have a place to live, although their client, Renata Frank, now does. The suit had sought class-action status to represent other occupants of the encampment.

The tents and their occupants were cleared by city workers May 3, after ArchCity failed to win a temporary restraining order to block their removal.

A federal judge ruled that the city was not criminalizing homelessness or sleeping in public, and was not clearing all homeless camps. U.S. District Judge Sarah E. Pitlyk also cited statements by city officials that housing was available for all occupants of the camp.

City officials wanted the park cleared because they said crowded and unsanitary conditions risked spreading the coronavirus. They had been offering rides to hotels or shelters, coronavirus tests and said they’d partnered with agencies to provide food and other resources.

In the announcement of the dismissal of Frank’s suit, ArchCity said city officials broke their promise that occupants would be placed in hotel rooms and said only a small number of the occupants of the encampment were tested for the virus. Others were only able to find space in shelters that were not allowing “the same opportunity to socially distance and care for their personal health as individual housing units,” ArchCity said.

Those in motels were “not being provided adequate food and services and have no idea what will happen to them when their temporary stay in a hotel terminates,” the group said.

“The rush to close the Market Street encampments before adequate shelter, services and medical outreach could be arranged demonstrates how the encampment closures were never about public health or safety,” ArchCity attorney John Bonacorsi said in the statement.

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