P. O . Box 771554 St. Louis. MO 63177 Phone: 314/881-3283
On Saturday, October 25, 2014 the Metro St. Louis Coalition for the Homeless held their regular monthly meeting at Soldiers Memorial. Members from the general public attended, as well as residents and staff from New Life Evangelistic Center.
On the agenda was discussion of the Board of Public Service Hearing that was held on October 21st. The room was filled to capacity that day, with people waiting for the board to announce its decision regarding the neighbors’ petition to close New Life—the City’s only 24-hour walk-in homeless shelter. Instead of a decision, a letter from the mayor’s office was read that encouraged the parties to negotiate a compromise and find a way to co-exist in the downtown area in a way that would be beneficial to all concerned. He actually mentioned improving services for the homeless.
In that spirit, those who attended the meeting on Saturday came up with many promising ideas. The Metro Coalition would like to present them here with an invitation for comments and further suggestions. Now that winter is approaching, is there a place for people with no home to be inside at least part of the day, not to mention at night?
Since mental health treatment is still not available to many people in our community and affordable housing continues to be scarce as wages continue to stagnate, it’s time for some creative solutions to some of the difficulties that many St. Louis area residents are experiencing. If this is to be the reality in our community, can’t we do a better job on a day-to-day basis as people try to get by under these conditions:
Here are some of the suggestions:
Bathroom facilities are a big issue. Work with downtown businesses to allow use of bathrooms. Encourage workers in stores and restaurants to get to know homeless people and be a little more welcoming.
Provide more porta-potties. NLEC has volunteered to maintain more porta-potties, but has not be given a permit to do this. This offer still stands and could happen if the City has no objection or provides a necessary permit.
Encourage the YMCA to offer open bathrooms. Would the City or a business fund extra maintenance to the Y to provide showers and bathrooms, say every afternoon during certain hours when the place was not at peak usage? This could be a great service. Maybe they’d be open to a pilot project.
Provide more trash cans throughout downtown. NLEC helps now with picking up trash. This could be enhanced. Maybe an art project.
Hire homeless people to keep the streets clean and free of litter.
More ‘peace policing’ in the area around NLEC. This would involve training officers in dealing with mental health and other homeless-associated issues. Have alternatives in place, so that jail is a last resort.
Problematic behaviors outside of New Life are not the responsibility of the New Life staff. Don’t blame New Life for problems that they did not create and realistically cannot solve.
Define the difference between loitering and hanging out. Loitering involves the intent to deal drugs or panhandle: the intent to break the law. NLEC discourages this and has called 911 when appropriate, as should other organizations, such as the school and library. But people should not be harassed or arrested for standing on the street.
Work with organizations in the downtown area that are currently providing outreach efforts, such as St. Patrick Center Mobile Outreach, BJC, The Bridge and NLEC to see of there are ways to avoid duplication and personalize referrals more. Could any of these groups offer more space and services during the day?
Remove the barricades on Locust Street, which are both an eyesore and a safety issue.
Provide more benches throughout the downtown area and in parks, where people could rest, homeless or not. Isn’t that better than people sitting on the sidewalk or on the ground?
Some version of the Guardian Angels that would work with people in getting the assistance they need and provide protection. Work more closely with the Downtown Guides. Have referral information available.
Work with the public library to make it more public friendly. The perception is that the library is now using “profiling” to keep people out based on appearances or whether they are carrying bags.
Provide a space where homeless persons can gather in constructive ways—doing art, music, problem solving, computer work. Lockers.
Work with businesses, City government and social service agencies to set up two or three more drop-in centers. The Horizon Club is over-crowded and can only take in a small number of people at a time. It shows the need for a place where people can spend time inside during the day. Two or three Drop-In Centers that would provide toilets, showers, lockers, laundry facilities, chairs, tables and possibly computers would go a long way towards solving the issues of too many people on the streets during the day from a business point of view, and ease the discomfort of people who find it difficult to even sit down—much less find a place to take a shower and wash their clothes.Other cities have provided such hygiene stations. Why not St. Louis?
NLEC would like to see an organic reduction in the number of homeless people staying at the shelter. In other words, reduce the number of people staying there by providing affordable rental housing and other transitional and supportive units, as well as shelters and more affordable housing in St. Louis County.
NLEC and the Metro St. Louis Coalition for the Homeless ARE at the table. We do not see a structure or a mandate from the Mayor’s office, but above are some practical suggestions that would address some of the issues that homeless people are already facing in downtown St. Louis.
We believe that it’s in the best interest of the business community, neighborhood residents, and city government to look at ideas and resources that could make St. Louis known as a community that provides humane and creative solutions to difficult problems that all cities are facing.