ST. LOUIS – Missouri announced 232 new COVID-19 cases Sunday, bringing the state’s total to 8,386. There have been 352 deaths, up 15 as of Friday. As the coronavirus crisis continues, St. Louis officials have been working to clear a downtown homeless camp.
Dozens of homeless people have been camping in tents near city hall during the pandemic for weeks. City ordinances bar people from living in a tent or being in a park after 10 p.m.
City officials say the homeless were not practicing social distancing and conditions in the camps were not sanitary. This prompted the city to order the camp to be cleared, saying it poses a public health risk of spreading the coronavirus.
A lawsuit was filed to try and put the move on hold. Lawyers asked for a restraining order to stop that closure. They argued that the city was trying to criminalize efforts by the homeless to get food and protect themselves from the coronavirus pandemic.
A federal judge took the request under advisement but later denied the request to block the city from clearing the camp.
“The judge agreed that this was such a terrible health hazard and a lot of garbage around,” said St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson. “We felt very strongly that this needed to be cleaned up and people need to get into housing and to shelters.”
Over the last couple of days, city workers showed up with plastic gloves and bags and removed dozens of tents and personal items.
Officials say there were around 100 tents and that everyone cooperated.
“We had a great deal of cooperation not only not only from the people that were living here but from the activist people that, I believe, brought this attention to the government,” said St. Louis Public Safety Director Jimmie Edwards.
Tent City STL says putting the homeless in shelters is not a long-term solution.
“We have been signing up people all over the city. There are a least 100 more people that do not stay here in the camp that have signed up for shelter and the city overnight decided to house people on location not at risk to COVID-19,” said activist Alex Cohen.
Blake Strode, the executive director of Arch City Defenders, believes the city’s actions violate the fundamental rights of those currently living in the encampments and make their lives harder at a time that they are already struggling to support themselves and each other through this crisis.
Rulings on other aspects of the lawsuit are still pending. Another hearing is scheduled for May 12.