St. Louis mayor calls on regional leaders to help expand housing efforts
St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones is calling on regional leaders to expand their efforts to help people experiencing homelessness.
Jones said the city is shouldering much of the burden to provide temporary housing to people from across the region. She said the city’s investment in a tiny home village in St. Louis is a model that leaders could use to help people who need housing.
“Just between St. Louis city and county, the city has 80% of the shelter beds … but we don't have 80% of the population,” she said while touring Jefferson Spaces, a transitional tiny home village.
Jones said she is aware of the criticism from many housing advocates who say the city should be spending more money on shelters and affordable housing. But she said her administration is working to help as many people find permanent housing as possible.
The city allotted $1.2 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds to expand on previous efforts to provide housing to people experiencing homelessness inside of a village of 50 tiny homes off Jefferson Avenue and Martin Luther King Boulevard. The expansion includes 50 more colorful homes for adult families or single occupants that sit in a former RV park.
“We have spent more through our ARPA allocations than any other administration on our unhoused,” Jones said. “Rather than try to criticize us for the things that we aren't doing, how about you praise us.”
Thomas Duroso, who lives in one of the colorful homes in the tiny village, arrived in April, after a caseworker at a shelter where he once stayed helped him get approved.
“I feel a lot more optimistic about my future, now that I got my [housing] voucher,” Duroso said. “I'm looking forward to it.”
Jones wants other leaders to follow her lead and look for similar opportunities to help people who need homes.
“This is a model that should be replicated across our region to make sure that we have spaces, individual spaces for our unhoused neighbors to get back on their feet, that we have wraparound services, social workers that can help them put their lives back together and get on to permanent supportive housing,” she said.
The village currently houses 51 people, who typically stay six to nine months. Caseworkers help residents secure permanent housing, find jobs and seek medical care and assistance with city services. Since its inception, about 160 people have left the village and moved into permanent housing.
“With the evictions that are increasing, people are just making choices that are not beneficial in this economy,” said Garfield Duckett, program director at Magdala Foundation, which operates the community. ”I think these are an ideal model … if we can agree that this type of response to homelessness will be ideal for the community.”
Housing advocates say if the Board of Aldermen approves the plan it would make it easier for more people to find stable temporary housing.
Action St. Louis, a racial justice organization, supports the proposal, because it would allow developers to build needed shelters across the city, housing organizer Kennard Williams said.
Jones said the city has about 2,400 affordable housing units that will become available over the next several years. But she said she’s concerned about the growing number of evictions in St. Louis.
Duroso is grateful he does not have to worry about evictions or need to bounce from family members' homes to shelters across the region. He said his miniature, one-bedroom home brings him some relief, because the shelters he stayed in before were chaotic.
“It was just nice to get out of that environment,” he said. “It’s just nice to get somewhere safer and somewhere where you can focus on what you need to do.”