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Nonprofit slated to help city operate 24-hour shelter is dissolving instead

Volunteer J.R. Wilkerson Jr. prepares broccoli at the Bridge Outreach on Wednesday, March, 30, 2016.
Camille Phillips | St. Louis Public Radio
Volunteer J.R. Wilkerson Jr. prepares broccoli at the Bridge Outreach on Wednesday.

Wednesday was chicken, broccoli and rice day at the Bridge Outreach in downtown St. Louis. With the help of volunteers, Chef Charlotte McClendon serves close to 3,000 meals to the homeless each week.

But the days where people without a place to live can go to the Bridge for a meal are now numbered.

McClendon and the rest of the staff at the decade-old day shelter found out Tuesday night that they soon will be out of a job — the nonprofit has decided to dissolve when its lease at the Centenary United Methodist Church is up at the end of June.

“I’m going to miss this place,” said McClendon. “My heart has been poured out into the Bridge. We have a wonderful relationship with our clients, as well as them with us. It’s going to be hard. I can go wherever I want to work, but this is where I want to be.”

Bridge Chef Charlotte McClendon wipes down a counter in the kitchen on Wed. March 30, 2016.
Credit Camille Phillips | St. Louis Public Radio
Bridge Chef Charlotte McClendon wipes down a counter in the kitchen on Wednesday.

Last year the city made arrangements with the Bridge to run the day operations for a new 24-hour shelter originally slated to open by July 1, but there’s been a change in plans.

“Unfortunately we can’t get a concrete date in terms of when that new facility will be done and we have to leave this building by June 30. It was made very clear to us there will not be another extension,” said Chad Rulo, interim director of the Bridge. “It was a very tough decision.”

The board of the Centenary United Methodist Church approved a six-month extension on the Bridge’s lease in January despite complaints from some neighbors that the day shelter attracted crime.

Rulo said the neighbors’ complaints were not a factor in the decision to close.

“We know we’re offering great services,” Rulo said, adding that he hadn’t discussed with city officials whether the Bridge’s recent notoriety could hinder success for the 24-hour shelter.

“It’s no fault of the city,” said Rulo. “I know that they’ve worked very, very hard, and they continue to work hard. And they really have a passion for this, I can see it. It’s just it’s a difficult thing, we’re talking about erecting a whole new facility and we just don’t think it’ll happen in two or three months.”

People who are homeless rest in the cafeteria at the Bridge Outreach on Wed. March 30, 2016.
Credit Camille Phillips | St. Louis Public Radio
People experiencing homelessness rest in the cafeteria at the Bridge Outreach.

“We asked (city officials) can you guarantee that we’re going to be here come July 1, and they said, 'Oh we have a good feeling’ or ‘We hope’ but they couldn’t give a guarantee. They also talked about (how) they’re going to open a new request for proposal for these services. They’re going to basically rewrite it even though we applied, the Bridge applied last year. We were the only ones to apply,” said Rulo. “And so with all these things kind of mired in, we said this is the best decision we can make right now because it gives us time.”

Rulo said the Bridge decided to close now so that there would be time for the city and other homeless service providers to find a way to continue serving the 100-250 people the Bridge helps each day.

St. Louis Human Services Director Eddie Roth declined to give an interview on the Bridge closing. In an email, Roth said he would prefer to wait until the city is ready to announce the details of the 24-hour shelter, adding that he expected to make that announcement within two to four weeks.

“We are planning for all contingencies but working toward a timely opening of the new facility this summer,” Roth said.

Roth said the city is reopening its request for proposals from service providers to “make sure that the public and clients receive the best coordination of and most complete collaborations on services at the new facility.”

Follow Camille Phillips on Twitter: @cmpcamille.

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