ST. LOUIS – In St. Louis, some outreach workers helping unhoused neighbors said they are frustrated with city officials, while officials said they are already doing more ahead of the launch of the city’s inclement weather operations plan in December.
“I had this space, and it wasn’t being utilized,” said Marsha Hawkins-Hourd, executive director of the Child and Family Empowerment Center.
She said she is still shaken by the recent cold snap.
“We close at 5 or 6 o’clock, and it’s just here, and they could have been in here,” Hawkins-Hourd said.
The center shelters those recovering from substance use disorders and incarceration. However, operations would change starting Saturday, Nov. 25.
“This is strictly for the homeless,” Hawkins-Hourd said. “What we are doing right here, right now, is strictly for the homeless.”
There were about 20 cots in the gymnasium, but the city and the center said more were coming.
“The goal is up to 200 beds,” said Yusef Scoggin, St. Louis Director of Human Services. “And that will be approximately 30 to 40 percent higher than it was last year, and the most important piece being that they are 24 hours.”
On Thursday, Dec. 1, the city will expand funding to allow more overnight beds during its cold weather operations plan. Scoggin also takes a longer view.
“We do not want to be in the same situation every year, seeing the same people,” Scoggin said. “Because we want to ensure that the services are providing them a road map, a playbook, to become permanently housed.”
Avital Reznikov works with St. Louis Winter Outreach to bring services and supplies to homeless people.
“It takes about a year to get that housing,” she said. “And people deserve a safe place out of the elements and away from dangers.”
Reznikov said unhoused people are also in danger of losing documents needed for a housing voucher.
“People lose them all the time,” she said. “They’re stolen. They’re ruined in the weather.”
That is one reason Reznikov wanted to see more walk-up and emergency bed availability immediately.
Audra Youmans is also from St. Louis Winter Outreach. She said there is also a problem with the warming bus that usually parks in downtown St. Louis.
“From 5:30 to 7:30, people can walk up, be on the bus, or around it, and hopefully get placed in a walk-up emergency shelter bed,” she said. “Many outreachers were told in a private meeting back in September that it most likely was not going to happen.”
Scoggin did not confirm or deny whether the bus will operate this year.
“So, we are still reviewing the process for that as we look at all of the operations, and next week, we will be making announcements,” he said.
Forecasted overnight temperatures in the upper 20s or 30s would be uncomfortable for those with homes. While the city counted down to the start of its inclement weather plan, Reznikov said sleeping in rather cold temperatures could be deadly or disabling for unhoused neighbors.