The Bridge Outreach is closing Thursday after serving thousands of meals a week to homeless people for more than a decade.
St. Louis officials and service providers have come up with a patchwork plan to fill the gap in services until the city’s 24-hour shelter opens.
But some advocates for homeless people say they’re worried the plan won’t be enough to meet the need.
“I feel as though we have a good, reasonable compassionate plan in place for the 30-day gap,” said St. Louis Human Service Director Eddie Roth. “We’re relieved and excited that we have something in place that will meet much of the need.”
The city’s primary plan to fill the gap is an arrangement with Compton Hill Missionary Baptist Church, 3141 LaSalle St., in St. Louis' Midtown neighborhood. Five days a week for the next month, 65 men will be taken by bus to the church from the city’s temporary night shelter at the 12th and Park Recreation Center on South Tucker Boulevard. The center will also be used as a day shelter on Sundays, and no day services will be available on Saturdays.
Up to 125 men stay at 12th and Park each night; St. Patrick Center selected the 65-75 men deemed most in need of day services, and those are the men who will be taken to the church for day services and meals.
Roth said the number 65 was used because that’s about the number of people the Bridge was serving each day. It’s also the amount of space available at the church.
“There are far fewer (homeless) single women and families and more facilities for their small numbers, and so we’re just going to continue with standard operating procedure for them,” Roth said.
Chad Rulo, outreach director for the Bridge, said the nonprofit organization served 75-100 people a day before it announced in March that was closing. The nonprofit decided to stop operating at 1610 Olive St., when its lease ended at the Centenary United Methodist Church.
After the Bridge reduced its hours and services, the number of people visiting has gone down to about 15 or 20 a day.
In addition to the temporary day shelter at Compton Hill Missionary Baptist Church, the city is relying on cooling centers (mostly public library branches) and various nonprofits that offer walk-up meals to meet the needs of homeless people until the city’s 24-hour shelter opens.
People still sleeping out
That has Mo Costello of STL Winter Outreach worried that people sleeping on the streets won’t get fed. She has been coordinating volunteers to take water to people every night during the recent hot spell. The volunteer see 40 to 50 people each night sleeping in parks and on sidewalks, Costello said.
“Which means that there are still 40 or 50 people every night that aren’t at 12th and Park. And that’s without looking. That’s without going around the courts building. That’s literally folks that are in one location,” Costello said.
After the people they met said they were hungry, STL Winter Outreach started bringing food as well. Costello said police warned them that if they continued, the volunteers would be cited for giving food.
STL Winter Outreach founder Teka Childress also said she was concerned more people need food than the 65 men who will be served at Compton Hill.
“They’re basing that number on the number of people who have recently been going to the Bridge, but there are a lot of reasons why people have not been going to the Bridge as much and there are many, many more people who need food every day who are homeless,” Childress said.
Childress is also worried that Biddle House, the city’s new 24-hour shelter, won’t be ready to open by Aug. 4, the last day Compton Hill is available.
Continuum of Care
According to Lu Oros, the city’s network of homeless service providers known as the Continuum of Care reached out to people at the Bridge and in downtown parks ahead of the Bridge closing to try to get people housed.
“We formed an outreach team, and that outreach team consisted of actually people who are out on the streets looking for those individuals who are without a home to see if they could help people to get stabilized before the Bridge was closed,” Oros said, adding that six people were housed through a service fair at the Bridge on May 31.
Oros is member of the Continuum of Care and is organizing meals at the temporary day shelter.
“We have people at all different levels helping with this effort,” Oros said. “Most of all we have Saint Louis University’s campus kitchen, who is going to be providing six meals a week, three breakfasts, three lunches. We have a variety of churches, many of whom had been volunteering and donating food at the Bridge.”
Both Costello and Childress said they work with the Continuum of Care and appreciate everything it is doing.
Follow Camille Phillips on Twitter: @cmpcamille.