In downtown St. Louis, the homeless are being given leaflets that point them to a place called Hopeville. While the camp, set up in an abandoned railroad tunnel under Tucker Boulevard, offers shelter from the elements... it is also a construction zone.
The section of Tucker (just north of Washington Avenue) is in danger of collapsing, which is why parts of Tucker have been closed to traffic for years.
Today, I met a 30-year-old man named Gene Martin. He says he's been in and out of group homes and mental hospitals for years. Most recently, Martin says an institution in Farmington dropped him off at the New Life Evangelistic Center last night with no money and no means to care for himself. He says he may stay in the tunnel tonight.
Last fall, I told you the city would begin construction this year. You can watch the video here: www.kmov.com/archive/69096372.html
In January, the city's human services department began to notify the homeless that the tunnel would be demolished. Bill Siedhoff, the director of St. Louis Human Services, says the agency helped relocate many people ahead of the May 17th demolition date. Siedhoff said the number of homeless dwindled to a handful until just a few weeks ago.
Now, there are dozens back in the tunnel. I was there this afternoon and found many who said they were newcomers who learned of the camp either by word of mouth or through leaflets that say, "Welcome to Hopeville. Have a place to call your own. Tent provided. Port-a-pot on premises. On-site security."
The city says the New Life Evangelistic Center (an nonprofit agency on Locust Street that offers shelter, among other services to the homeless) is behind the leaflets and the push to increase the number of homeless in the tunnel.
Siedhoff calls it a publicity stunt.
A volunteer for New Life Evangelistic Center tells me that directing the homeless to the tunnel is a humane. He says the tunnel offers a sense of community and safety that can not be found on the streets.
This recent push to move people into the tunnel may also set up a showdown between the New Life Evangelistic Center and the city. The NLEC says it wants St. Louis officials to set aside land for another tent city.
Siedhoff countered by saying the only solution is permanent housing for the homeless.
The city's human services department is now distributing its own flyers to warn the homeless of the impending tunnel demolition. On the back of each flyer, is a list of agencies that can offer the homeless assistance in finding another place to stay.
The homeless will be required to evacuate the tunnel by May 14th or face arrests.