St. Louis has new plan for property of homeless - KMOV.com

St. Louis has new plan for property of homeless

ST. LOUIS (AP) -- Embarrassed last year when city workers confiscated and destroyed property belonging to homeless people camped in a downtown park, St. Louis officials have come up with a new plan to make sure it doesn't happen again.

Mayor Francis Slay announced a program Friday that will provide storage bags and identification tags to homeless people. Any bags or other items with the ID tags picked up by police or city workers will be taken to a city health department storage facility.

In addition to protecting the belongings of homeless people, Slay said the program offers an opportunity for outreach.

"This allows us a point of contact for some of our most vulnerable citizens," he said.

In November, park rangers took down a makeshift camp for two homeless men at Interco Park, a small gathering spot near the St. Patrick Center for the homeless.

Park rangers gathered up tents, blankets, pillows and bags filled with the two men's belongings and placed them in the compacting end of a garbage truck.

One of the men rode up on his bicycle begging rangers to return his belongings. But rangers turned on the compacting device and crushed everything. Among the items destroyed was the homeless man's heart and lung medications.

The incident led to an outcry from homeless advocates. Slay said the park rangers had "screwed up," and city human services director Bill Siedhoff said the action showed a "disturbing" lack of respect.

"This simply cannot happen again," Slay said Friday.

St. Louis has a relatively large homeless population because most of the region's service providers are downtown. Siedhoff noted that homeless people come from other parts of the region, and even other states, to seek services.

Siedhoff said the two men whose belongings were destroyed were both from East St. Louis, Ill. He met with both a day later to apologize. Private sources came forward with donations of $1,000 for each man to replace their belongings. Siedhoff said the city helped both men find housing, with the city even providing some furnishings for them.

"I can tell you they're doing very well," he said.

Siedhoff said the cost of the new program, which officially begins April 1, is minimal. Providers of homeless services are helping spread the word about the availability of storage bags and ID tags.

The Rev. Kathleen Wilder, whose Centenary United Methodist Church offers services for the homeless, said the storage bags may seem like a small thing but they can make a big difference.

"Most carry around trash and grocery bags," she said. "Now, they can carry belongings bags with IDs to distinguish them."

(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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