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Agencies applying to run St. Louis' new Biddle House shelter meet skeptical potential neighbors

If their reception at a community meeting Wednesday night is any indication, the agencies who submitted the only application to run a new homeless shelter in St. Louis face an uphill battle to convince nearby residents they’ll be a good neighbor.

The plan is for St. Patrick Center to oversee daytime operations at Biddle House, including intake, meals and placement in permanent housing for up to 125 men, women and children. Peter and Paul Community Services would be in charge of the 98-bed overnight shelter for men.

But the residents who spoke Wednesday night weren’t concerned about who will be running Biddle House. They were worried that adding another homeless shelter to the near north side of St. Louis will increase crime.

“I am a product of Carr Square Village,” said Catina Wilson. “I was the kid of the crack era so I know what that community was and I know what we’re fighting for right now.

“We’re trying to improve our community. We’re finally getting to the point where we can put our kids outside again,” Wilson said, adding that she wants the best for the homeless but wants services spread all across the region.

Todd El was one of several frustrated residents who said he wished he had been involved earlier in the planning process. He expressed doubt that Biddle House would be able to reduce the number of homeless people in the region, comparing the city’s new plan to earlier efforts to reduce homelessness that failed to reduce the overall size of the homeless population..

“Now you tell us that this particular facility in this particular location is going to be different. In some magical, mystical way it’s going to be different?” El asked.

Originally built to house the Biddle Street Market, this city-owned building at 1211 N. Tucker Blvd. is slated to house the city's new 24-hour homeless shelter.
Credit William Bailey | provided by the city of St. Louis
Originally built to house the Biddle Street Market, this city-owned building at 1211 N. Tucker Blvd. is slated to house the city's new 24-hour homeless shelter.

Others questioned why many shelters were being concentrated in one area, and why the city was focusing on a large shelter, when previous best practice statements focused on small shelters spread throughout a metropolitan area.

St. Patrick Center CEO Laurie Phillips agreed that small, spread-out shelters are still best practice.

“If I had my way, my personal way, I’d want a very small housing opportunity center in every neighborhood in this community,” Phillips said. “Right now this is our opportunity. Biddle is our opportunity because it’s the only place we can go to relieve what will happen when the 12th and Park (the temporary men’ shelter) needs to close and New Life Evangelistic Center has to reduce its numbers to 32.

“I understand that there’s a lot of anxiety and mistrust in the process that maybe has been taken to identify a place where we can put a housing opportunity center of this size,” Phillips added. “Yes, there will be men who are sleeping overnight in the facility. But the primary reason for us being there … is to get the right support systems in place for people and get them housed so this problem will eventually go away.”

Carr Square is in the middle of implementing a federal neighborhood improvement grant, and many residents and stakeholders contend that adding a homeless shelter goes against the grant’s momentum. The neighborhood is bounded, roughly, by Cass Avenue, Cole Street, North Tucker Boulevard and North Jefferson Avenue. 

Darryl Piggee, the attorney representing the grant implementers, said Wednesday they were pursuing legislative action with the St. Louis Board of Aldermen before considering a lawsuit.

While most Carr Square residents passionately called for the city to find a new location for the homeless shelter, people from other nearby neighborhoods said the city seems to have made up its mind and the only thing left for them to do is make sure the city agrees to provide protection.

Lewis Moore asked for a point person to keep in touch with neighborhood associations, security cameras and a good relationship with the police department.

Todd Waelterman, from Mayor Frances Slay’s office, assured Moore that “everything on your list is very doable. And it’s on our list and we look forwarding to doing it.”

A city board will decide Tuesday whether to accept the joint proposal from St. Patrick Center and Peter and Paul. It’s the only option unless St. Louis decides to go back to the drawing board.

Follow Camille Phillips on Twitter: @cmpcamille.