County to add resources for homeless population

Aug 31, 2012

St. Louis County executive Charlie Dooley is pledging to open an emergency homeless shelter in the county by the end of the year.

Dooley announced the shift in policy in a series of Tweets on Friday. The county will also be looking for agencies to operate transitional housing - which is a stepping stone between a shelter and a permanent residence - and will host a homeless summit in October.

Right now, the only short-term homeless shelters are within the St. Louis city limits. Mike Jones, a senior policy advisor to Dooley, says the county is now acknowledging that a fair number of the people using those resources are county residents.

Jones says it's not the county's intention to own or operate the shelter.

"We're not going to try and reinvent the wheel," Jones said. "We would use the existing network, we would just try to add additional resources."

The county began to seriously reflect on the need to expand the homeless services available after seeing the results of the 2010 census. Jones says the numbers showed 10 percent of the county's residents living in poverty, much of it concentrated in unincorporated areas.

"[Dooley] felt it was time that we begin to shift out of a the paradigm that kind of see ourselves as a suburban, under-populated geography that can afford a suburban laissez-faire government to the reality that we're a built, urban environment," Jones said.

He said Rev. Larry Rice inspired the idea of the homeless summit, which would bring together service providers and possible clients. Earlier this month, Rice opened a tent encampment near the I-70/I-170 interchange.

Bill Siedhoff, the city's human services director, applauded the announcement while urging the county to do more.

Follow Rachel Lippmann on Twitter: @rlippmann