ST. LOUIS (KMOV.com) - A day after a federal judge denied a temporary restraining order to prevent the dismantling of two homeless tent cities in downtown St. Louis, crews started taking the tents down.
The ArchCity Defenders filed a lawsuit to stop the displacement of those living in the tent encampments in response to the city's order to vacate. Their lawsuit stated that there are not "enough shelter beds, motel rooms, and temporary housing for people to move into."
Mayor Lyda Krewson said the order was issued because of concern about the spread of coronavirus. Saturday, city officials say they placed 40 people in shelters.
The city said it does not plan to show any excessive force as it removes the tents, it will try to work with the homeless as best as it can. There's a group of tents on the east side of the Soldiers Memorial and another group on the west side.
Wednesday, city officials began the process of helping the homeless move to the city-provided housing.
With the cooperation and teamwork of a lot of people, including many volunteer outreach workers, about 40 additional individuals were placed into housing today. pic.twitter.com/YpUcnG3uzj— Mayor Lyda Krewson (@LydaKrewson) May 3, 2020
The organization said they will continue to work with the community and "gather relevant evidence" during a preliminary injunction hearing on Tuesday.
Officials estimated earlier in the week that there were about 50 homeless people living in pop-up tents downtown.
Krewson said some of the 40 residents moved into housing returned to the tents because not everyone wants to go into housing.
"Most motels or shelter operations most of them have some rules. Some of the people that we placed in shelter yesterday are back here today," Krewson said.
Krewson said that there are no rules in hotels or shelters where the homeless are being placed regarding past convictions.
"When they go into this housing we try to stress on them they have to be a good neighbor in this housing. There are some rules in housing and they've gotta be a good neighbor but their past record doesn't matter," Krewson said.
Krewson spoke to News 4 after the tents started appearing a few weeks ago. She said the tents were being handed out by well-meaning people who were also trying to make a point about those living on the street. She said not all of those in the tents are city residents.
The Health Department Director is concerned the homeless aren't following the social distancing guidelines that help stop the spread of the novel coronavirus. The fire chief is also worried about the fact they are cooking on barbecue grills.
"It is a pretty serious health threat to have these individuals mixing it up, not practicing social distancing, living in this group situation. So we will be trying to move those folks out of the tents by Friday morning," Krewson said earlier in the week.
On Thursday and into Friday, a portable medical van was on site to provide health screenings. Officials checked for COVID-19 symptoms and other medical problems.
“For weeks, the City of St. Louis has stated that they have enough shelter for the people who want it. This is patently false,” said John Bonacorsi, a Staff Attorney and Skadden Fellow at ArchCity Defenders. “As unhoused individuals, outreach workers, and service providers know firsthand, there is a severe shortage of adequate shelter space for our local unhoused community, which means that there are hundreds of people who are forced to risk punishment and sleep outside.”
City officials told News 4 they secured more than 200 additional beds in the past two to three weeks but Krewson said on Sunday that there may be a need for more.
"There probably is a need for more and we need other people to help us step up," she said.
Krewson said other municipalities and non-profits should work on the issue.