This interview will be on “St. Louis on the Air” over the noon hour Tuesday. This story will be updated after the show. You can listen live.
Residents of what had been St. Louis’ largest homeless encampment, located just off Market Street in downtown St. Louis, are now on the move.
The camp’s 50 or so residents had resisted moving to shelters during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, despite urging from the city. Residents cited concerns ranging from fear of greater exposure to COVID-19 to being unable to bring their possessions to city-run shelters. But after the city ordered residents to vacate last week — and a judge failed to intervene — they now have little choice but to find somewhere else to stay.
St. Louis Health Director Fredrick Echols ordered the camp to be cleared on April 29, saying it poses a public health risk of spreading the coronavirus.
The nonprofit civil rights law firm ArchCity Defenders filed a federal lawsuit Friday on behalf of Ranata Frank, who had been living in the camp and said she had been waiting for weeks for housing from the city. The suit sought to stop the enforcement of Echols’ order.
ArchCity also sought a temporary restraining order seeking to stop the city from taking immediate action. After a hearing Friday afternoon, U.S. District Judge Sarah E. Pitlyk denied that request Saturday.
Another hearing in the case is now set for May 12.
Alex Cohen, who is an organizer for the grassroots collective Tent Mission STL, said Mayor Lyda Krewson wanted to get rid of the camp for a long time. “[She saw] a window of opportunity and she acted,” he said.
In court, the city averred that hotel rooms will be available to anyone who needs one, and that COVID-19 testing will be available to those displaced from the encampments.
But Cohen said hotel room and shelter bed availability remains a toss-up. “What’s going on is a tiny veneer of public health approach to help address the problem and it’s nothing close to it,” he said.
On Tuesday’s St. Louis on the Air, host Sarah Fenske will talk to Cohen and others involved with the encampment about what happens next for the camp’s residents.
Do you support the city breaking up the downtown encampment? Tweet us (@STLonAir), send an email to email@example.com or share your thoughts via our St. Louis on the Air Facebook group, and help inform our coverage.
“St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill, Lara Hamdan and Joshua Phelps. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.
Send questions and comments about this story to firstname.lastname@example.org.