ST. LOUIS — After overseeing the city’s largest men’s homeless shelter for two years, an Ohio-based organization will not be renewing its contract, leaving a local nonprofit organization to take the reins of a shelter for which the city in years past has struggled to find an operator.
Biddle House, the only city-owned homeless shelter, offers at least 100 beds to homeless men year-round and case management to connect them to housing and jobs. Its operator, Homefull, manages facility staff, safety and security, and case management at the shelter, which is in the Carr Square neighborhood on 13th Street.
There are 1,260 homeless people in St. Louis, according to the most recent count. There are 17 shelters operating in the city, including emergency shelters because of the coronavirus, for approximately 530 beds, according to St. Louis Continuum of Care.
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Finding an operator for Biddle House historically has been difficult. In 2018, the city’s first request for proposals got no takers, including its operators at the time, St. Patrick’s Center and Peter and Paul Community Services. The city had to make a second request before Homefull and a second organization threw their hats in the ring, with officials ultimately settling on Homefull.
Homefull CEO Tina Patterson said the organization is stepping aside in favor of a local group to lead operations. The contract with the city ends on Sept. 30 and Homefull gave the city notice several months ago that it wouldn’t be renewing its contract, she said.
“Our organization has grown tremendously in the last few years, predominantly now in the state of Ohio,” Patterson said. “Our long-term goal in respect to St. Louis was always (to) build capacity to serve the community, first as a consultant and second as a direct provider. We were hoping we could transition (Biddle) at some point to a local provider. Now we feel it’s a good project on good solid footing with good best practice models, so somebody can take it on locally.”
Homefull’s strategy focuses on “rapid rehousing” for the homeless. Even before stepping in as the operator, Homefull helped Biddle House as a consultant for three years, modifying existing programs and strengthening grant applications to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Patterson said Homefull has established policies for the way people are admitted, how they are treated while they are there and how they are helped back on their feet. Homefull has worked with the Continuum of Care and the city’s Department of Human Services to streamline resources, she said.
“We were focusing on the outcome of clients exiting quickly into permanent housing (and) helping people get the benefits they deserve,” Patterson said, adding that Biddle House offers employment services. “Whoever is the next provider is certainly able to know they’re taking a solid program over, one that’s probably positioned well in the community in terms of operating and partnership.”
A selection committee has recommended that the next operator be City Hope STL, a nonprofit organization that formed last year to serve the homeless, though the city hasn’t finalized or approved a contract. City officials would not say how much City Hope might be paid or offer any other details on a proposed contract.
City Hope CEO Michael Robinson said the roots of his organization began in 2017 with providing shelter to the homeless in city churches after New Life Evangelistic Center closed. City Hope now is housing around 150 homeless people in several different facilities across the city.
“We (have) a deep foundation of love, dignity, respect and compassion,” Robinson said. “Those are the four major pillars we stand on because we wanted to do it differently than I had seen in some places … . We wanted to be able to, when someone comes through the door, say, ‘Hey, are you OK? Let me get you a cup of coffee, have you eaten today?’”
Robinson emphasized that no contract has been finalized with the city but said he had high hopes for managing Biddle House if everything goes according to plan. He said he isn’t sure why the city has struggled in the past to find someone willing to take on operations of the shelter.
“We want a trauma-free transition,” Robinson said. “It’s traumatizing enough to be out on the streets and not know where you’re going to sleep at night, and then coming in (to Biddle House) and having new management and having the rules possibly change. We don’t want to put them through that. We hope to keep things pretty much the same managementwise.”