St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay announced plans to fund year-round emergency shelter for 225 people Wednesday. The announcement came one day after the city’s Board of Public Service officially filed an order requiring downtown shelter New Life Evangelistic Center to reduce the number of people it helps each night to 32. New Life has until May 12 to comply or be shut down.
Slay laid out his vision for the future of emergency shelter in the region in two posts on his personal website, one titled “Reducing Homelessness, Not Enabling It,” and another titled “Giving Shelter Must Be A Regional Effort.”
In the first post, Slay wrote that it’s not enough to quote “warehouse people for a night in substandard conditions.”
Instead, he wants existing service providers to add 5 or 10 beds each, adding up to a total of 75 to 100 beds. The remaining beds would be provided by the opening of a 75-bed emergency shelter for men and a 50-bed emergency shelter for women and children.
“The operators of these shelters will treat emergency shelter the way it should be treated: as an emergency,” Slay wrote. “These shelters will become places for new beginnings, not places of ‘last resort.’ That means multiple agencies will be working together to provide immediate shelter but also to move guests out of shelter as quickly as possible and toward permanent housing and independent living.”
City spokeswoman Maggie Crane said St. Louis will pay for the new shelter space through federal grants the city has already received, including the Affordable Housing Trust Fund. She estimated the cost at one million dollars a year. The goal is for the shelters to open by mid-April. A city agency has ruled that downtown shelter New Life Evangelistic Center has until May to reduce the number of beds it provides to 32.
New Life currently provides shelter for as many as 300 people a night. New Life Director Rev. Larry Rice has said he plans to sue for the right to continue his current service level.
In his second blog post, Slay said that St. Louis serves homeless people throughout the region and asked neighboring areas to open more shelters and to offer homeless services in their communities.
“This is a real call to other municipalities to do their part,” reiterated Crane, adding that St. Louis is offering its expertise to those cities to help them get started.
Follow Camille Phillips on Twitter: @cmpcamille.