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Homelessness in St. Louis and a local film addressing the issue of tent cities

(L-R) Paul Crane, Irene Augustin and Cynthia Duffe talked about the issue of homelessness in St. Louis and the new local film "Living in Tents" portrayal of it.
Lara Hamdan | St. Louis Public Radio
(L-R) Paul Crane, Irene Augustin and Cynthia Duffe talked about the issue of homelessness in St. Louis and the new local film "Living in Tents" portrayal of it.

Filmmaker Paul Crane didn’t know much about homelessness until he happened across a tent city while walking around taking pictures in downtown St. Louis.

The blue tarps set up along the Mississippi riverfront sparked Crane’s curiosity and eventually led him to direct the documentary, "Living in Tents.”

On Thursday’s St. Louis on the Air, host Don Marsh talked about the new documentary film, which features the stories of homeless people in St. Louis and more broadly, the issue of homelessness in St. Louis.

Listen to the full discussion:


Crane joined the discussion alongside Irene Agustin, director of the city’s Department of Human Services, and Cynthia Duffe, executive director of Gateway Housing First.

The film follows a group of homeless people living together for two years, some who choose to live outside and others who have no other option. The residents were eventually ordered to relocate by city officials.

The city provided them with free apartments for a year and required them to have a job to later pay for the housing. The film shows that after the year, 70 percent of those people were back on the streets.

Through making the film, Crane said he became more aware of the various issues that come with homelessness, including mental illness, drug addictions and exposure to violence.

“When I first showed up, there was a lot of good energy, and I didn’t see anything wrong with it at first,” Crane said. “Obviously the more I learned, the more complicated it all seemed, and over time, it became less peaceful and more violence occurred.”

Agustin said the issue is still a problem and city officials are still working on striking a balance between providing emergency outreach services and connecting people to permanent housing options.

“Tents, unfortunately, are not a safe option,” Augustin said. As a service provider, she said that instead of just the technical aspect of placing someone in a home and providing social services, the goal is to look at how to help homeless people build connections with the community and neighbors in their new housing, similar to the fellowships fostered in the tents.

Duffe said the quality of shelters in St. Louis is satisfactory but that the vast majority of homeless people would like to see a safe, affordable home of their own.

“There needs to be an array of housing options available to them,” Duffe said. “They have to have choices like everybody else when looking for that next place to live, and then they have to be properly supported in making sure that they can maintain it.”

Related Event:

What: "Living in Tents" Benefit Preview

When: Thursday, February 22, 2018 at 7:00 p.m.

Where: Tivoli Theater, 6350 Delmar Blvd, St. Louis, 63130

Free w/ RSVP

St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Mary EdwardsAlex HeuerEvie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region.

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Lara is a producer for "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.

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