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Area homeless agencies fight accusations they aren't helping residents of tent city

(photo by Rachel Lippmann/St. Louis Public Radio)
Kimberly Peterson (left) and other residents of Hopeville express their frustrations at an event of agencies that assist the homeless

By Rachel Lippmann

St. Louis – Social service providers in St. Louis say they are doing everything they can to help the residents of a tent city in a tunnel under Tucker Boulevard.

About 70 people call the tunnel, recently dubbed "Hopeville," their home. They will be displaced May 17, when work to fill in the crumbling structure begins. Many of the new residents moved in since Easter, likely at the behest of the Reverend Larry Rice, who has called efforts to help them inadequate. Earlier this week, he filed a Sunshine Law request with the city of St. Louis to find out how its Department of Human Services spends funds to combat homelessness, and has asked for an acre of land to house those who camp there.

"I do understand the desire to be in a community. You guys have build something special," Karen Wallensack with Catholic Charities told about a half-dozen residents of Hopeville. "But I'm telling you, and I'm sorry, it's not going to happen. And we need to face that."

Wallensack, the director of Catholic Charities' Housing Resource Center, admitted that the agencies will not be able to help everyone living under the tunnel.

"So we've got to muddle through and work together and figure this out," she said. "We are spending too much time and energy debating this."

Residents are grateful that agencies have provided food and water, and that workers have come into the tunnel to help them connect with services, said Kimberly Peterson. But many found out later they were blocked from assistance.

"We have people coming down, offering us shelter, homes, job applications, but then, the people that I live with every day, with services calling them, them calling services, they don't qualify," she said. "Where's the qualification for the ones that don't qualify?" Peterson said she moved into the tunnel after becoming homeless about a month ago.

Agency officials acknowledged that some people living in the tunnel will not be able to get services from St. Louis city agencies, but said options are available no matter where a person was living before going to the tunnel.

Wallensack said all but 10 people had been moved from the tunnel before Easter. Many there now, she said, are from outside Missouri.


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