An organization that goes into the streets to make sure people experiencing homelessness are warm and fed is concerned that the rights of the homeless are being violated in downtown St. Louis.
St. Louis Winter Outreach believes people living in shelters and abandoned buildings have borne the brunt of an increased police focus on minor violations promised by the mayor in May after a violent carjacking.
“We witnessed people being stopped on the street and being asked for information. Warrant checks were run, and we began to notice certain things were happening, we began to hear that people were getting ticketed a lot for being homeless,” said Winter Outreach founder Teka Childress.
In response to those observations, Childress said members of Winter Outreach surveyed 75 people experiencing homelessness. Two-thirds of the people they surveyed said they had been stopped by police for no reason, and almost 40 percent had been charged with loitering.
“We do not believe targeting homeless persons is a just thing to do in order to end crime in St. Louis. The bigger crimes are being committed in other places by other people. The homeless are really generally involved in very minor crimes, generally related to survival,” Childress said.
In a statement, a spokesperson for the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department said the department had not violated anyone’s rights.
“When our officers stop homeless people and issue appropriate citations, it is the result of officers responding to 911 calls. Officers do not do ‘round-ups’ of homeless people or stop them without cause,” said police media liaison Schron Jackson.
An analysis of the department’s crime reports found that St. Louis city police officers issued substantially more loitering violations during the summers of 2016 and 2015 than they did in 2014.
The department reported 80 percent more loitering and begging crimes from May to October 2015 than it reported during the same time span in 2014. Loitering violations increased 34 percent in 2016.
Trespassing violations held fairly steady in 2016, but spiked in 2015.
Downtown business owners and residents began pushing for the closure of the homeless shelter at 1411 Locust St., New Life Evangelistic Center, in 2013. A city board ruled that New Life was a detriment to the neighborhood in December 2014 and revoked the shelter’s occupancy permit in May 2015.
Follow Camille on Twitter: @cmpcamille.