St. Louis' First 'Intentional' Homeless Camp Sees High Demand In Opening Week
In July, residents of an impromptu homeless camp in downtown St. Louis’ Interco Plaza noticed signs in the area saying they had to move by Monday, Aug. 2 — or face eviction. The eviction didn’t happen, but both private businesses in the area and the St. Patrick Center set up a new, temporary home for camp residents nearby.
“The city and the mayor's office have decided not to go down that path [of forced eviction], and that's something [we at] St. Patrick Center support — not disbanding people and traumatizing and moving people, but creating an alternative,” said Anthony D’Agostino, CEO of St. Patrick Center. “That's where Camp Cole came up, and we're very excited.”
Camp Cole is a former warehouse that can house 40 people. People who check in to the encampment meet with St. Patrick Center staff, who connect them with resources and work to get them on a path to permanent housing.
“They got some things in line for everybody as you pass through,” said Angelo Pate, who learned about Camp Cole from a flyer. He’s lived there since Monday. “This would be like a cycling place where you come in and you get housing, and you actually get helped out [of] the situation. And this is a good way to filter out and make that happen. I have a lot of faith in it.”
The facility has common areas with seating, a television and games. Each person gets a tent, a chair, a storage container and a backpack with hygiene items.
“It's a lot calmer, a lot safer,” Pate added. “Better [to be] out of the elements, for sure. And you can actually rest.”
Camp Cole is St. Louis’ first intentional encampment, which D’Agostino said is different from the impromptu encampments that have popped up across the city over the years.
“[The impromptu encampments] have no organization or structure around them,” he said. “Intentional encampment does have some structure, but it's in communication and collaboration with the people who stay there — the residents. So it's not like we're enforcing rules on people, but there are some guidelines and structures around so people can be safe at night when they're sleeping.”
Residents are not required to have employment or stop using drugs. “We’re a very low-barrier facility,” D’Agostino said. “We've learned a lot from Denver and from some other communities on how they've created successful encampments, because people need a place to stay. And that's what we're trying to do.”
As of Wednesday afternoon, three days after St. Patrick Center’s Camp Cole opened, the warehouse was at near capacity with 39 tenants.
D’Agostino joined Thursday’s St. Louis on the Air to discuss the push to move residents of the Interco Plaza homeless encampment to Camp Cole.
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“St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.