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Grant from Bezos means big changes for region’s only shelter for homeless families

A Black woman in a blue silk bonnet and purple coat talks to a Black woman in a black shirt who is filling out paperwork in her lap.
Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
Lorie Howard, right, a senior case manager at Gateway 180 Homeless Services, speaks with Kimberly Goodson about the center’s rapid rehousing program last month at the shelter in Carr Square. A grant from Amazon founder Jeff Bezos is allowing the shelter to get more people like Goodson into housing more quickly.

A $1 million grant from Jeff Bezos’ Day 1 Family Fund will enable the St. Louis region’s only emergency shelter for families facing homelessness to make major changes.

Gateway 180 received the donation, the largest in its history, in the fall. Executive Director Kathy Connors said she had to read the email multiple times before the meaning registered.

“And then I yelled for our business and operations manager to come in and read it just to make sure I was reading it correctly,” Connors said. “It was just a very, very exciting moment.”

The agency plans to direct some of the money toward physical upgrades to its building in the city's Carr Square neighborhood, including new windows, flooring and tuckpointing.

“This is a very old building. It’s over 100 years old, and it gets a lot of hard use,” Connors said. “We always want to make sure that we provide safe and nurturing shelter to individuals who are calling Gateway 180 their temporary home.”

The agency will also buy and install a commercial dishwasher. The shelter can house 120 people.

The Bezos grant will also help the agency make major changes to its rapid rehousing program, which helps cover such costs as application fees, security deposits or rent and utility support.

Gateway 180 usually covers those expenses up front and is reimbursed through federal programs. But individuals who are experiencing chronic homelessness are prioritized.

American Rescue Plan Act funds allowed the agency to cover those costs directly, Connors said, which gave her a chance to see what it might be like to privatize the rapid rehousing program completely.

The Bezos grant gives Gateway 180 three extra years to plan and fundraise for that transition

“It is quite the gift to Gateway 180. But even more so it's a gift to those we serve, those we rehouse and our community when you really think about it,” Connors said.

Since November, the rapid rehousing program has helped 39 families using Bezos grant money. It would normally take a year to serve that many families, Connors said.

Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.