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Federal government to investigate whether St. Louis homeless shelter location violates law

Biddle Housing Opportunities Center. Biddle is partly run by the St. Patrick Center, a homeless service provider. Biddle is not only an emergency shelter, but also provides help for homeless, including finding housing. May 5, 2017
Marie Schwarz | St. Louis Public Radio
Federal investigators will be in St. Louis this week to look at whether the Biddle Housing Opportunities Center, pictured here in August 2016, violates fair housing laws.

Federal investigators will begin looking into the only city-run homeless shelter in St. Louis this week.

At issue is a fair housing complaint filed in April by two St. Louis-area state lawmakers, who claim the shelter’s location in the Carr Square neighborhood north of downtown is unconstitutional because it makes poverty worse in an area that’s already struggling.

St. Louis opened the Biddle Housing Opportunities Center in August 2016 to give who are homeless a place to go during the day, and a place for 98 men to sleep.

The city coordinated with the federal government when deciding on the location, according to Eddie Roth, former director of the city’s human services department and a special assistant to Mayor Lyda Krewson. Roth said the Carr Square location made sense because homeless people were congregating in the area already.

“Rather than concentrating poverty in an area that already has a significant amount of existing poverty, it diffuses poverty by providing emergency services and to move people into housing in all parts of the city,” Roth said.

But Democratic state Reps. Joshua Peters and Bruce Franks said the location was a racially motivated decision.


“We can’t just say, oh, just because this is a black area in north St. Louis city, we’re just going to dump all the homeless people here,” said Peters, whose district includes part of Carr Square. “That’s not an acceptable approach, and the federal government has said that it’s not an acceptable approach.”

The representatives want services for the homeless spread throughout the city, making mental-health care, meals and laundry facilities more accessible.

“We have 28 wards in the city,” Peters said. “We want 28 of those wards to take shared responsibility in housing the individuals and providing wraparound services for these individuals.”

There is no timetable for the federal government to complete its investigation.

Follow Rachel on Twitter: @rlippmann

Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.

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