ST. LOUIS (KTVI) – St. Louis is in the grip of a cold weather emergency. There was a very real fear Wednesday night that people who chose to stay outdoors might not survive.
The City of St. Louis’s 12th & Park emergency shelter was about top 200 full beds, which would be a record, said St. Louis Human Services Director, Eddie Roth.
With wind chills below zero and air temperatures headed there, overflow shelters across the area were full, too.
St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay used the opportunity to call for a year-round solution.
Volunteers with the St. Louis Homeless Winter Outreach group stocked up and headed out in their personal cars, ready to offer the homeless rides to shelters. They also handed out supplies like hats, blankets, and snack bags, to those who refused to come in from the cold.
“To survive a night out here in that kind of temperature. You need a lot of supplies to keep you warm,” said volunteer, Maddy Christian.
Very few people seemed to be out, deciding before the sun went down to find a shelter.
Still, the volunteers found one couple choosing to stick it out in their tent with a propane space heater.
There were also people camping out at a favorite warm spot: the exhaust grates in the sidewalk outside the Scottrade Center.
“We would like to see nobody that feels like they have to sleep on the streets, particularly in this kind of cold weather or any time of year for that matter,” said St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay. He issued a call for proposals for 2 new emergency walk-in shelters — one for men and the other for women — to open by April.
Existing shelters would also expand bringing the total of average daily beds available year-round up to 225.
The Department of Human Services would oversee the shelters but existing non-profits and faith groups would run them.
They would have the ability to “ramp up” and meet the need when demand was up and the danger was high: a night like Wednesday night.
“We want to have a welcoming place. A place where people are welcomed and there’s some intake and some assessment and try to do what we can to provide whatever resources are needed to help individuals find a better path forward in life,” said Mayor Slay.
The new shelters would help offset the potential loss of beds at the New Life Evangelistic Center in Downtown St. Louis, which has been ordered to reduce its number of beds to 32.
The shelter had housed as many as 200-300 homeless people in the past, sources said.