The tents outside St. Louis City Hall stand another day.
City officials Monday night tried to clear an encampment of people who have been sleeping for months outside Mayor Tishaura Jones' office, citing a slew of disturbances over recent weeks.
But after hours of resistance by residents of the camp, joined by aldermen and a crowd of supporters, 14th Ward Alderman Rasheen Aldridge announced in the wee hours of Tuesday morning that Mayor Tishaura Jones’ office had called off the effort for the night. But, a city spokesperson said later Tuesday they would continue clearing out the camp while offering resources to the individuals staying there.
Crews attempted to move pop-up tents, sleeping bags and other belongings from the camp beginning around 8 p.m. on Monday night.
Officials in the mayor’s office referenced fights, drug overdoses, other medical emergencies and 50 police calls over the past month and a half as reasons for wanting to disband the camp. All people at the encampment had been offered shelter with supportive services, according to a city spokesperson, and more than a dozen residents had accepted those offers by Monday.
The cleanup attempt came the same day members of the Board of Aldermen announced plans to introduce bills this week to provide protections for people living in encampments, like the one outside City Hall, and to make it easier to open shelters.
The “Unhoused Bill of Rights” legislation promoted Monday by Board President Megan Green and 7th Ward Alderwoman Alisha Sonnier would decriminalize panhandling and loitering and require the city to create “safe camping areas” with toilets and showers.
Outside City Hall on Monday night, Sonnier said the city’s actions made it clear why such legislation is needed. She said breaking up the encampment will end up shuffling many of its residents to other parts of the city.
“We have to have other options besides disbandment. We have to actually create a place for all folks in our city to go,” Sonnier said, adding that homelessness is a regional issue that disproportionately affects the city. “I think what people are not seeing is what this population really looks like, and not seeing the shared humanity that we have with each other and that many of us are simply a few paychecks away from being a few paces away and a family support system away from being in this same position.”
Kathleen Cash started packing her tent and belongings Monday night when news of the looming clearance made the rounds. “Alls we're doing is fighting for housing. We just want to be treated like humans,” said Cash, 57, who had been sleeping outside City Hall with her husband, Kamm Hayes, 52, and their two Chihuahuas, Isabel and Bubba.
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Cash said she didn’t know where they would go upon leaving the camp.
“They get mad at us because we have to go in the alley and go to the bathroom. But you don't provide us a bathroom,” Cash said as she wept outside City Hall. “We're not all here because we're bad people. There are good people here. I became homeless at 54 years old because of COVID, not drugs and alcohol, [or] because I'm uneducated or anything like that.”
She described a cycle of instability since losing her housing in a small town just north of Jerseyville, Illinois, during the coronavirus pandemic. “You can't get a job and hold it down when you don't know where the f*** you're gonna be the next day.”
See photos by photojournalists Tristen Rouse and Brian Munoz below: