St. Louis taxpayers foot bill for out-of-town homeless - KMOV.com

St. Louis taxpayers foot bill for out-of-town homeless

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Emergency crews tending to an overdose victim near the NLEC. Emergency crews tending to an overdose victim near the NLEC.

ST. LOUIS (KMOV.com) -- For most people in St. Louis, homelessness is rarely on top of their mind as they go about their daily lives, but it impacts them more than they realize because the city spends millions of taxpayer dollars on resources for the homeless. What's even more interesting is that those funds go to some people who are not even from St. Louis.

St.  Louis' Director of Human Services, Eddie Roth, said only half of the homeless in St. Louis are from the city. The other half come from the county, across the river, or even out of state.

"I don't think the don't build it and they will not come really works," said Roth. "What happens is people come and then they end up on our streets. And then people demand action and for obvious reasons are upset for humanitarian reasons. We have an obligation to act."

One of the groups that may be pulling homeless into the city is New Life Evangelistic Center (NLEC).                 

"I do know New Life Evangelistic Center, which has a series of TV and radio stations, advertises broadly throughout this region and beyond saying they provide assistance to people that are homeless and so part of the reason people come from distant places to St. Louis is because of that invitation and the reality is that New Life Evangelical Center is not a reliable provider of emergency shelter," said Roth.

Just two weeks ago, police said more than 100 people, many of who are homeless, overdosed on K2, a form of synthetic marijuana. It happened right outside NLEC. While Roth said he does not believe NLEC is directly responsible for the overdoses, he noted that it did not happen near any of the other three dozen facilities for homeless around St. Louis. In the end, St. Louis taxpayers picked up the bill for the first responders who helped the homeless who had fallen violently ill.

News 4 also spoke with a police department in Illinois which acknowledged it has brought homeless people across the river to places like NLEC in the past. City leaders realize other departments have done the same.

“People who are homeless are resourceful and mobile in seeking services. For many it's a matter of survival. Some communities have their local or municipal police departments bring people who they find homeless into the city for assistance,” said Roth. “The law enforcement officers who bring people in are well-motivated. They are trying to help someone who they think has need.”

Roth said in response, we should not criticize those officers, but rather get together as a community to make changes and come up with resources outside of the city, too.

“If you try to pour a gallon of water into a quart jar, you are going to have some problems that confront a community that is open and committed to helping people but simply does not have the resources to do it alone. We need to work together,” said Roth.

Regardless of where they are from, once they are in the city, the city and its taxpayers absorbs the responsibility to come up with resources for them. According to Roth, the city spends $1.5 million on homeless services annually. That's on top of several million more for affordable housing and the $2.5 million the city just invested into the Biddle House, a new homeless shelter.

Now, the city is trying to encourage a regional effort to combat homelessness so the burden doesn't all fall on St. Louis city taxpayers. Roth says starting in January, they will use a $300,000 federal grant to spur more regional collaboration to address homelessness.

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