St. Louis has received a $1 million federal grant city leaders say will help move up to 150 people into stable housing and out of shelters.
“It’s simply not enough to warehouse people for the night,” said St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay. “This is a more dignified approach.”
Slay made his remarks Tuesday morning at Biddle House, a 24-hour shelter the city opened in August.
The grant is the latest effort by the city to tackle the complex issue of homelessness, following a cease-and-desist notice issued earlier this month to New Life Evangelistic Center. The city says the shelter is operating illegally and must close. Its occupancy permit expired in May 2015. The Rev. Larry Rice, who has run the shelter at 14th and Locust streets for 40 years, says he will appeal and has no plans to go anywhere.
The city has come under increasing pressure from downtown residents and businesses because of the recent surge in overdoses near Rice’s shelter. Emergency crews have reported over the past three weeks that nearly 300 people have been hospitalized following overdoses on a synthetic cannabis, commonly referred to as K2. Overflowing trash cans, camping on sidewalks and public urination and defecation also are common complaints tied to New Life.
Laurie Phillips, CEO of St. Patrick Center, one of two agencies that operates Biddle House, said there are about 1,300 homeless people in St. Louis.
Of those, about 55 percent would qualify for the “rapid rehousing” program covered by the $1 million grant issued by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
About 20 percent of the city’s homeless are defined as “chronic” and harder to move off the streets and onto a path to permanent housing. They often have substance abuse and mental health issues and are reluctant to accept help. The remaining 25 percent are people who are at risk of becoming homeless. That would include someone kicked out of their home with no permanent alternative for shelter.
Eddie Roth, the city’s Health Services director, said with the new funding — along with the 2,500 beds provided nightly for temporary shelter throughout the city — shutting down New Life will not leave a gap in current homeless services.
Slay, in his remarks, did not name Rice specifically but said the overwhelming majority of those providing homeless services do so without controversy “and are not the ones you see in the news.”
Rice and City Hall have had an acrimonious relationship for decades. Rice is not a member of the city’s Continuum of Care, a group of 60 organizations that provide various services to the homeless and receive HUD funding.
Slay said the $1 million is new money on top of the $11.5 million HUD provides annually that is divvied up among the Continuum of Care partners.
With the new funds, the city will work with ArchCity Defenders, a nonprofit civil rights law firm, to help remove any legal impediments that prevent someone from moving into permanent housing.
“This is a fantastic step forward,” said Thomas Harvey, co-founder and CEO of ArchCity.
The city plans to seek the $1 million as an ongoing annual boost to homeless efforts, Slay said. With 15,000 evictions every year in St. Louis and St. Louis County, there will continue to be an influx of people needing help, Harvey said.