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City moves up clean-up schedule downtown

by Diana Zoga / News 4

KMOV.com

Posted on September 5, 2012 at 9:37 PM

Updated Thursday, Sep 6 at 2:56 PM

ST. LOUIS (KMOV.com) -- Thursday morning, the city cleaned the streets and sidewalks and set up barricades on sidewalks, where large groups of homeless people have been camping. 

The city moved up its schedule on Thursday, originally planning to clean Thursday night and set up barricades on Friday morning.  This follows complaints from area residents about large groups, camping on downtown sidewalks - around the New Life Evangelistic Center.

Wednesday evening, police officers, city health department workers, and social service agencies spent hours outside a downtown homeless shelter, offering health screenings, hot meals, and referrals to housing. The effort followed complaints from area residents about growing numbers of homeless people, including children, camping on sidewalks along Locust and St Charles Streets - outside the New Life Evangelistic Center.

"It's really sad because it's mothers and their children. Yeah, that was a concern for me," said Tearria Ruffin.

She says she saw people using illegal drugs outside her window and people urinating and defecating in the street.

Complaints prompted the city to make a series of promises last week.

See our coverage last Thursday: www.kmov.com/news/local/City-promises-to-clean-up-homeless-camps-downtown-168088476.html

Wednesday evening, the city began offering social services on-site. This Thursday night, city crews plan to wash down the sidewalks and streets. By Friday morning, the city will barricade some of the sidewalks on 15th street, Locust and St. Charles to prevent camping in the immediate future.

Bill Siedhoff, the city's human services director, said the aim is not to cut off access to the NLEC.

"We're not closing off access to New Life Evangelistic Center. That will continue from both the west side of their building and the east side. It will continue all the way to 14th street."

Wednesday morning, NLEC's director Rev. Larry Rice held a press conference, complaining that the homeless have no other place to go if they weren't allowed to camp on the sidewalks outside the NLEC.

Agencies who help the homeless say that isn't the case.

"I believe there is [enough housing]. We have street teams out, building relationships with the homeless. We've got people coming here everyday, We've got partnerships with landlords," said Kelly Peach of the St. Patrick Center.

Some people, she said, prefer not to seek out help in finding transitional or permanent housing.

"There are pockets of people who would like to live in their own little outdoor society with what they perceive to be their own government, their own form of rules, or their own brotherhood. We don't really feel that's a life of dignity and I feel like they can do better and we can help them do better," said Peach.

Encouraging or allowing homeless camps or tent cities is not the answer, added Peach.

"We want to end homelessness; we don't want to manage it or enable it."

On Wednesday afternoon, there were only a handful of homeless people outside the NLEC to talk to social service workers. News 4 did not see anymore large groups, camping out. It seemed many moved out, ahead of the city's campaign on Wednesday.

News 4 asked Siedhoff how the city can manage the issue, without simply shuffling people from one neighborhood to another.

"What we're trying to do is get people inside," answered Siedhoff.

In recent years, a few homeless people who lived under Tucker Blvd had to move because of construction work. The central library in downtown St. Louis, a place where the homeless could sit indoors, closed for renovations. Homeless camps along the riverfront were shut down and Lucas Park, a daytime hangout for many homeless people, closed for renovations earlier this year. Each closure seemed to lead to a new migration.

Siedhoff says the city will continue to try to reach homeless people to offer services and an alternative to outdoor camping.

In the downtown neighborhood, near the NLEC, the city says police will continue a special enforcement effort this weekend and "as-needed".

Siedhoff also says the city plans to do more to inspect the conditions inside the NLEC, saying there were concerns about living conditions inside the downtown shelter.

"We have some real concerns about the way this facility is maintained. We're going to follow up on that, take a look at that. We want to see improvements here."
 

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