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Homeless forced to remove tents from downtown St. Louis sidewalk

Sign at a homeless tent encampment on sidewalk in downtown St. Louis on Oct. 26, 2017.
File photo | Chelsea Hoye | St. Louis Public Radio
Sign at a homeless tent encampment on sidewalk in downtown St. Louis.

For a group of homeless people who've been living in tents on a downtown St. Louis sidewalk, it's the end of the road. 

Thursday was the deadline imposed by the city for them to leave the site.

In an act of solidarity, community activists gathered Thursday morning near Tucker Boulevard and Biddle Street to hand out food, winter clothes, and bus tickets to people who are homeless.

City officials had earlier announced that those in the tents would have to vacate the sidewalk, citing safety concerns.

Tent encampment site in downtown St. Louis sidewalk on Oct. 26, 2017.
Credit Chelsea Hoye | St. Louis Public Radio
Tent encampment on a downtown St. Louis sidewalk.

The city St. Louis wants “to raise the sales tax for Proposition P, but where’s the sales tax to give people a place to sleep?” The Rev. Larry Rice of the New Life Evangelistic Center asked.

Rice was pleased Thursday with the turnout from homeless people and to see demonstrators supporting them. He said he is working to find lodging for them and for those who can’t find beds in nearby shelters.

Rice was forced to close New Life’s homeless shelter at 1411 Locust Street this year after the city determined the building had too many code violations.

Officials maintain that with cold weather approaching, tent encampments do not provide sufficient protection from the elements.

“A tent is not a safe option or viable place to be considered for human habitation,” said Irene Agustin, director of human services for St. Louis.

Agustin says the city has the best interest of homeless people in mind when enforcing tent encampment policies. She said city workers do their best to find emergency housing and food for the people who are displaced.

Community activists have said that nearby shelters are at capacity, though, and more city resources must be allocated toward providing the homeless with social services.

Melissa, a St. Louis native, has been sleeping in one of the tents since she lost her bed at the St. Patrick’s Center in downtown St. Louis. She declined to give her last name.

After leaving her overnight position in a kitchen for a daytime job at a nearby restaurant, officials at St. Patrick's told the woman she would have to wait 90 days to get her bed back. Even though those 90 days are up, she’s still having trouble finding a bed.

“I’m just trying to better myself but it’s really hard, especially out here. I don’t want to get sick and it’s cold,” Melissa said. “All I [can] do is keep calling, everyday, the housing helpline. And I feel like I’m not getting anywhere."

Mo Costello has been volunteering as a street outreach worker for the St. Louis Homeless Winter Outreach for about 10 years. She’s worried about the lack of beds as winter weather approaches.

“They’re not just going to go home — they don’t have a home,” said Costello. “They have to relocate somewhere that they can hide better, which makes it more difficult for street outreachers to find them as they’re pushed away from where we’re used to finding people.”