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New Homeless Facility To Open In St. Louis

The former Garfield School in St. Louis has been renovated and will open on Nov. 19, 2014, as Garfield Commons with 25 apartments for single chronically homeless adults.
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When Garfield Commons, the former Garfield Elementary School in St. Louis, formally opens this week, it will provide 25 apartments for single homeless adults and assist 40 homeless and HIV-positive people annually.

“The individuals who are moving into Garfield Commons are coming from a chronically homeless background, as well as folks who have had recurring issues with substance abuse, folks who have significant mental illness,” program director Adam Pearson told “St. Louis on the Air” host Don Marsh on Monday. “We’ll be providing both housing and supportive services.”

Renovated by Peter and Paul Community Services, Garfield Commons will open with a ribbon cutting and open house on Friday, during National Hunger and Homeless Awareness Week. Each Garfield Commons resident will sign a lease for an apartment, which costs $475 per month and includes utilities.  

“Once they sign a lease, it’s theirs,” Pearson said. “If they want to stay there for a year, that’s fine with us. If they want to stay for five years, that’s OK too. Fifty years, 60 years — it really just depends on what their needs are.”

“We do have goals for these folks,” said Tom Burnham, transitional housing manager at Peter and Paul Community Services. “There’ll be a clinical team on site, including a licensed clinical social worker, a nurse, an occupational therapist and a substance abuse counselor. Our goal is to work with them and develop their living skills and over time address their issues.”

Pearson and Burnham said they expect many residents will want to transition to other living arrangement with fewer on-site clinical services.

“We’d love to see them move into less structured, less supervised housing,” Burnham said. “But they’re typically gonna need some supportive services in the community. Some of these folks will probably never be able to live independently.”

This type of program is not new. Burnham said there are about 175 similar programs across the country. St. Louis has a history of working to address homelessness.

“St. Louis is well-known around the country for having one of the first homeless service networks,” Campbell said. “HUD is not requiring most municipalities to have a network, a continuum of care if you will, that provides housing (and) supportive services to people that are homeless. St. Louis started meeting in that fashion back in the early ’80s and continues through today. There are anywhere from 50 to 70 agencies in the city of St. Louis that meet on a regular basis to address the needs of the homeless.”

The Garfield Commons project has been in the works for about seven years, said Steve Campbell, executive director of Peter and Paul Community Services. He said gaining community support is key to the project’s success.

“We took the time to sit down with the neighborhoods and make several presentations about what we wanted to do,” Campbell said. “We got their input and we work collaboratively with the neighborhoods that we’re in.”

“Getting community support is not a one-and-done type of proposition,” Pearson said. “There’s a long-term plan that all of us have as far as engaging the community.”

Burnham said he believes more can be done in the private sector to alleviate homelessness.

“There’s an issue that seldom gets discussed that is the loss over the last 40, 45 years of single-room occupancy,” he said. “Once upon a time there were many residential hotels downtown and our neighborhoods were dotted with rooming houses and boarding houses. This was all private-sector housing that received no government funding whatsoever. Through code and zoning, we have eliminated a lot of that housing without any kind of provision for the people who utilized it.”

Homeless counts are conducted twice a year, Campbell said. A 2013 count found about 1,400 homeless people in St. Louis.

“About 13 hundred of those were sheltered, either in shelters or transitional programs. Roughly a hundred were from the street,” he said. He also said because of how the count is conducted, he believes it does not account for everyone who is homeless.

Peter and Paul Community Services is seeking volunteers. To help, call Jane at 314-588-7111.

Related Event

Garfield Commons open house

  • When: 3 to 7 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 19, 2014. A ribbon-cutting ceremony starts at 2 p.m.
  • Where: Garfield Commons, 2612 Wyoming St., St. Louis
  • More information

“St. Louis on the Air” discusses issues and concerns facing the St. Louis area. The show is produced by Mary Edwards and Alex Heuer and hosted by veteran journalist Don Marsh. Follow us on Twitter: @STLonAir.

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