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City's Homeless Services Pick Up During Cold Weather

New Life Evangelistic Center, 1411 Locust St. in downtown St. Louis.
Flickr | pasa47
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via Flickr | pasa 47.
The New Life Evangelistic Center at 1411 Locust St. in St. Louis, Mo. (via Flickr/ pasa47)

A brutal cold snap has drawn attention to the region’s homeless, and the services available to them.

Eddie Roth is a month into his position as director of St. Louis’ Department of Human Services. His predecessor, Bill Siedhoff, retired in November after more than 13 years as director. In addition to the city’s homeless services, Roth oversees the St. Louis Area Agency on Aging, Veterans Affairs, Youth and Family Services and the Office on the Disabled.

With temperatures in the teens and wind-chills even lower, the St. Louis emergency overflow shelter at the 12th and Park Rec Center has been open for almost two weeks. During that time, more than 1,300 people have gone to the shelter for a hot meal and warm place to sleep. The shelter will be open again tonight.

“I promised when I first got the appointment that I would keep people posted about what I’ve learned,” Roth told “St. Louis on the Air” host Don Marsh on Wednesday. “I have been to the overflow shelter every night that it’s been open so far this season, which is 12 nights. I have no excuse for not going; it’s only about 3 miles from my home. We have volunteers who are there and dedicated staff, and I can drop in and see what’s going on and share some kernel of something that I see there.”

Roth has been posting those observations on his public Facebook page.

The city works with several agencies to provide services for the homeless. St. Louis Crisis Nursery is one of them, and works with families to help care for children.

“I think the nursery recognizes that homelessness is the outward presentation of inward issues,” said Kim Galinat, a St. Louis Crisis Nursery family social worker and homeless outreach coordinator. “Unfortunately, when it is a family multiple people are involved. If we can help families get off the street, that’s what we strive to do.”

Roth said the number of families who showed up at the city’s emergency shelter surprised him.

“I guess I knew in the abstract that there were homeless families and children, (but) I didn’t expect to see strollers the first night that I walked into our overflow shelter,” he said.

St. Louis Crisis Nursery has a shelter for children, from newborns to age 12.

“If a family is in any sort of crisis, and obviously families are the experts of their situations so they define what crisis means to them, we can offer some emergency support,” Galinat said. “For some people, that is just having somebody to talk to and getting referrals. For some people it’s having their children stay with us.”

St. Louis Crisis Nursery also has volunteers at the overflow shelter.

“They are a reassuring presence on every night that the city overflow shelter is open for business,” Roth said. “They are prepared to speak with women or, in some cases there are fathers who accompany children.”

The New Life Evangelistic Center Debate 

Two days before Christmas, St. Louis’ Board of Public Service ruled that New Life Evangelistic Center, a homeless shelter in downtown St. Louis, is a detriment to the neighborhood and must close by May or change the way it operates. 

“Their permit comes under a hotel ordinance, which was the most germane or relevant at the time in 1976 when they first went into business,” Roth said. That permit is for 32 beds. New Life Evangelistic Center often houses more than 200 people.

The battle over the center’s permit began in December 2012. Downtown business owners and residents began collecting signatures, saying the center was a detriment to the neighborhood. The Board of Public Service began holding hearings nearly a year later. New Life Evangelistic Center director Larry Rice is appealing the Board of Public Service’s ruling to state and federal courts.

“The remedy is really quite judicious,” Roth said. “First of all, it gives New Life Evangelistic Center until May to sort of figure out what it wants to do, including seeking judicial review, which is part of the process too. And to consider other options. One option that the board made plain was that if (Rice) wants to abide by the terms of the permit that he sought and was granted, which is to say 32 beds, he can continue indefinitely. If he wants to provide shelter for more people, that he can work with the community and with the service provider community and apply for the appropriate permit and zoning, and abide by the same standards that every other nonprofit that provides this service.”

No matter what happens, Roth said the people now going to New Life Evangelistic Center will receive care. Depending on how they’re counted, Roth said there are 10 to 20 shelters in the St. Louis area; not all of them, like the emergency shelter, are open every night.

“I’ve made it clear that if (Rice) does less, we will do more,” he said. “We have the capacity in this community to provide emergency shelter for everyone who needs it.”

“St. Louis on the Air” discusses issues and concerns facing the St. Louis area. The show is produced by Mary Edwards and Alex Heuer and hosted by veteran journalist Don Marsh. Follow us on Twitter: @STLonAir.

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