Homeless provider proposes shelter location in South City, Carondelet church

A lack of housing options across the Metro makes it harder for advocates for the unhoused population in St. Louis watch attempts to tear down encampment sites.
Published: Mar. 17, 2023 at 7:19 PM CDT
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ST. LOUIS, Mo. (KMOV) - A lack of housing options across the Metro makes it harder for advocates for the unhoused population in St. Louis to watch city and state-sanctioned attempts to tear down encampment sites.

“Unfortunately, there’s just not a lot of options open right now,” said Syd Hajicek, organizer for Lifeline Aid Group.

Last month, Hajicek and members of the unhoused population spoke with News 4 about their concerns after MoDOT planned to take down existing tents on the hill off of I-44 at Hampton Avenue.

While they did not tear down those tents since last month, MoDOT tells News 4 they will begin coordinating cleanups there with the help of the city and police. Yet, a spokesperson for MoDOT says they do not have an exact date for that scheduled yet.

However, Hajicek says people living at that campsite tell him MoDOT came to their site earlier this week with a deadline.

“The MoDOT officials came by just about three days ago and told them to leave and that they have 10 days to go,” he said. “There are three gentlemen there right now in tents. They don’t have anywhere to go.”

Yet, a new proposal could be the key to helping the city create more housing opportunities for people experiencing homelessness.

“There’s a huge need for this, and we’re responding to that need,” said Deb Cotton.

Cotton is the Chief Development Officer at Peter and Paul Community Services. The shelter provider is proposing a new 24-hour men’s shelter to be created at the old Sts. Mary and Joseph Chapel in the Carondelet neighborhood. This facility would offer 100 bed spaces in total and replace their existing 60-bed shelter space in Soulard.

“The church, It’s the right size. We’re looking for 20 to 25,000 square feet. We have received a lot of support from the Carondelet neighborhood,” said Cotton.

“I would say that even 40 beds in the city would be groundbreaking absolutely tremendous, because you have to keep in mind that due to the changes in the pandemic, St. louis lost tremendous [number] of beds that historically have been there,” said Hajicek.

Yet, it is a proposal Cotton knows comes with pushback from others in the neighborhood.

“The not in my backyard reaction [is] a typical reaction had by people that do approve of the services but don’t want it anywhere near them,” said Cotton. “These people aren’t as scary as you think they are. They’re more likely to be victims than to ever victimize, most of them have jobs, [and] for most of those people this is a blip in their lives that they’ve hit a hard time. Most people are not chronically homeless.”

Cotton says there is still a petition and zoning process in which the proposal has to go through before any shelter can be built at the church. 51 percent of registered voters within 500 feet of the shelter site would need to support it.

“By going into a neighborhood that has a high degree of crime, a high degree of issues, they do bring value because again we’re pulling people off the street,” said Cotton. “That’s 40 new beds where we’re able to place a priority on people in the neighborhood, getting them into those beds.”

Peter and Paul Community Services believe this location will serve the unhoused population well, but they are also willing to work with other parts of the city to find alternative locations if a shelter does not get approved there.

“We want to get the word out to St. Louis. We want to help address this issue. We want to address the issue of not enough places for people to stay who need housing,” said Cotton. “So, we need 20-25,000 square feet somewhere where people will have us as a neighbor.”