ST. LOUIS • The city is scurrying to find an operator for its Biddle House homeless shelter after no one responded to a request for proposals this year.
Among those that haven’t submitted bids are the two agencies currently managing the 24-hour shelter north of downtown.
On June 1, the city cast the net again, this time with a tweaked request for proposals that would allow more than one agency to operate the shelter, similar to the current arrangement. The initial request that got no responses sought a single agency to oversee Biddle House.
The deadline to receive proposals this go-around is Friday. City leaders and the agencies currently associated with the homeless shelter revealed little information on Monday but Mayor Lyda Krewson stressed that operations will continue once the current contract expires July 31.
“We anticipate that we will have bids to consider,” Krewson said in a written statement. “Regardless, Biddle House will stay open.”
Who would run Biddle House if no bids are submitted remains unclear. What is known is that St. Patrick Center, the region’s largest homeless service provider, will no longer be involved. Since August 2016, when the shelter opened, St. Patrick Center and Peter and Paul Community Services have partnered to operate Biddle House.
“Beginning August 1, 2018, our intakes and assessments, plus case management and housing support services, will operate out of St. Patrick Center (headquarters), at 800 North Tucker Boulevard,” St. Patrick Center spokeswoman Kelly Peach said. Those daytime services are what St. Patrick oversees at Biddle, while Peter and Paul manages overnights, which includes providing about 100 beds for men. Peach said her agency would continue its work on the Housing First model and serve as the lead agency for a coordinated entry system into homeless services provided by dozens of agencies throughout the area.
Steven Campbell, executive director of Peter and Paul Community Services, did not return a voicemail message nor a request for an interview left at his office.
Irene Augustin, director of Human Services, the city department that handles homeless services, is in Detroit for a conference on addressing homeless issues. She said in an email to the Post-Dispatch that she would prefer to comment after the request for bids closes on Friday.
“Please know we are working closely with our Continuum of Care (partners) not only on Biddle House, but how our homeless service delivery functions as a whole,” Augustin said in the email. The Continuum of Care is a partnership of about 70 area groups working with the homeless.
The city has 1,336 homeless people, based on a 2017 count, including 142 labeled as “unsheltered.” The homeless population accounted for about 3 percent of arrests in 2017, and 37 percent of those who are homeless are mentally ill or struggling with substance abuse. The statistics were included in the city’s latest request for proposals.
The city anticipates it will have about $515,000 from a grant available to help operate the Biddle House.
The uncertainty of Biddle House’s future is not a surprise to the Rev. Larry Rice, who ran New Life Evangelistic Center for 40 years at 14th and Locust streets. The city forced Rice to close his shelter because of various building code violations and operating without a permit to house people overnight.
“I knew they couldn’t handle it,” Rice said of the city’s efforts to run a shelter. He said he could not fault St. Patrick Center and Peter and Paul from apparently backing away from their relationship with Biddle House.
“I can totally understand why they wouldn’t want to do it,” Rice said. “It’s a thankless job” filled with too many restrictions set forth by the city that distracts from fully serving the client, he said.
Rice said he had hoped to have New Life reopened as a day shelter by now, but legal challenges by neighbors have prevented him from doing so. He is even less optimistic that he will get approval to operate again as an overnight shelter.
“I’ve spent thousands and thousands of dollars” to improve the building, Rice said Monday. But the resistance from downtown residents has been strong, he said. Rice said he got a city permit to shut down on Saturday the block of Locust Street in front of New Life to pass out water, bus passes, clothes, bedding and gift certificates to McDonald’s.
“We haven’t given up. We’re out on the streets with those on the streets. We’re just not operating out of that building,” Rice said.
Biddle House was opened, in part, in anticipation of New Life’s closing, which happened in April 2017, eight months after Biddle House opened. City leaders insisted then that the city-owned facility, at 1212 North 13th Street, would provide comprehensive service, including getting those they serve into permanent housing, and connecting them with jobs and assistance for mental health and substance abuse issues.
How successful Biddle House has been in its first two years is as unclear as its future.
“We are certain that many lives were changed as we provided emergency shelter and hot meals, plus day services and Housing First programs that resulted in permanent housing placement,” Peach said in her written statement. “We also prevented homelessness for dozens of individuals and families.” St. Patrick Center will issue an “impact report” later this summer, she said.