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More apartments for homeless people open in north St. Louis, but great need remains

Residents of a homeless encampment in downtown St. Louis pack up their belongings on Jan. 11, a few weeks before the region experienced a deadly cold snap in 2021.
File Photo | David Kovaluk
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St. Louis Public Radio
People living in tent encampments face dangerous conditions as colder weather sets in.

More people who need shelter will be able to find a place to stay, with two apartment buildings catering to homeless people opening in north St. Louis. But hundreds more people without reliable shelter will face dangerous conditions on the streets as colder weather arrives.

Doorways welcomed its first resident this week to the 50-unit apartment building on the nonprofit’s new, $40 million campus in Jeff-Vander-Lou. A nearby building includes space for intake services and programming for residents. Doorways plans to build a 39-unit apartment building on the site early next year.

Nearby in the Greater Ville, St. Patrick Center opened the 24-unit McFarlane Place apartment building this week, which includes space for caseworkers to assist residents.

Doorways’ new apartment building is its 10th in St. Louis. McFarlane Place marks the St. Patrick Center’s first foray into eliminating the housing middleman by becoming landlord to its clients.

“Anytime you’re working with a landlord, even the greatest ones out there, there’s often going to be a 30-day delay. There’s going to be this, there’s going to be that. And 30 days more at the shelter or 30 days more in your car can really make a big difference,” said Amanda Laumeyer, St. Patrick Center’s senior director of philanthropy.

The setup is particularly helpful for homeless people, as landlords and rental managers often hesitate to offer them apartments.

“One of the barriers that we run into all the time here is finding a landlord that's going to work with our clients, who may have a lot of barriers in their background,” Senior Director of Programs Jonathan Blecher said. He cited bad credit and simply lacking a permanent address already as factors seen as red flags when they seek housing.

St. Patrick Place had been trying for a few years to purchase property before finding this one, a spokesperson said. The nonprofit bought the building with help from $890,000 in federal American Rescue Plan funds appropriated by the Missouri legislature and donations from supporters.

Other groups serving homeless St. Louisans have made unsuccessful attempts to secure ARPA funds through city government.

Doorways and St. Patrick Center each serve homeless people with specific additional needs. Doorways provides help to people living with HIV and their families. St. Patrick Center will open its McFarlane Place development to veterans and people who were referred by staff at area hospitals and emergency rooms.

Even as advocates make new apartments available to those without shelter, hundreds more continue to face dangerous conditions on the streets as temperatures drop.

“Fifty units is a drop in the bucket. There is a growing problem with homelessness in St. Louis. And we're proud to be able to offer this, but we know that much more needs to be done by Doorways and other service partners,” said Doorways CEO Opal Jones. “There’s a lot of need out there. And when it turns cold, it goes from broad, basic need to being deadly.”

At least five people died on the streets of St. Louis during the 2020-21 winter, an investigation by St. Louis Public Radio and APM Reports found.

Doorways’ new campus occupies three acres and moves its headquarters from the Central West End. It includes multimedia classrooms for computer literacy programs and other classes, and a demonstration kitchen for sessions on healthy cooking and nutrition. The organization plans to add a retail pharmacy and event space.

The campus also includes “Rumors of War,” a large-scale bronze sculpture by Kehinde Wiley.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misnamed Doorways, the organization that is opening an apartment building in the Jeff-Vander-Lou area.

Jeremy is the arts & culture reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.