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Day shelter to stay at Centenary church through June

Sherry Branham, 55, panhandles at the eastbound I-64 exit ramp onto Grand Blvd.
Camille Phillips | St. Louis Public Radio
Panhandling is a common day-time activity for some homeless people in St. Louis. The Bridge Outreach is one of the few places for homeless people to go during the day.

St. Louis’ only walk-in day shelter for the homeless won’t be moving to the city-owned building known as City Hall West this month after all. The board of the Centenary United Methodist Church agreed Sunday to extend the lease for the Bridge Outreach until the end of June.

“We decided that this was the right thing to do so that we didn’t have people displaced throughout the neighborhood and that we could provide shelter especially in this very cold weather,” said Centenary’s pastor, Kathleen Wilder, after the vote, noting that the church had “a commitment” from the city to find a new home for the Bridge by the end of the lease “if not sooner.”

A day shelter offering meals, showers and other emergency services for the homeless has been located at the Centenary Church on 16th and Olive since 2005. Originally a church ministry, a nonprofit began running the day shelter in 2009.

At a public meeting last week some downtown residents made it clear they wanted the Bridge Outreach out of the neighborhood, saying the shelter attracted crime.  Homeless people can often be found outside the church during daylight hours.

Wilder said the church is keeping the comments made at that meeting in mind.

“It needs to be clear to everybody that the people of the church have prayed and really sought how to find a way that we can all live together. And that we want to work together that all might find their way home and that all might live in safety,” Wilder said. “We’re hopeful that between the extra attention of listening to the neighbors and trying to accommodate their concerns and needs—which are very valid—that we can also meet the needs of the homeless and somehow find a peaceful way that we can all live together.”

Organist Kathleen Bolduan plays for The Longest Night memorial service at Centenary United Methodist Church.
Credit Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio
Centenary United Methodist Church hosts a vigil each year for people who died while homeless.

The city’s department of human services announced in December that it would temporarily be moving the Bridge to City Hall West (1520 Market Street) after Centenary told the Bridge new tenants would be moving into the church in January.

Then just before the New Year, human services director Eddie Roth said an anonymous donor had come forward offering $100,000 to keep the Bridge at the church. Plans to move a charter school into the Centenary had recently fallen through.

Wilder said Sunday that the $100,000 will “cover some back-costs of operations that the church has covered as well as future anticipated utility costs.”

A provision in the church’s new lease with the city promises a dedicated police presence at the Centenary while the Bridge is located at 16th and Olive.

Mayor Francis Slay told "St. Louis on the Air" last week that the city wants to have a permanent location for a 24-hour homeless shelter open by July 1.

The 24-hour shelter would combine the day services provided by the Bridge with an overnight men’s shelter currently housed at the city’s recreation center on 12th and Park. The city has been looking for a permanent space for its men’s shelter since it opened the shelter at its temporary location last April.

St. Louis Human Services Director Eddie Roth did not return calls for comment on this story.

Follow Camille Phillips on Twitter: @cmpcamille.