St. Louis Shelters Strained as Homelessness Surges in U.S.

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  • NICK FAST

  • Homelessness increased in 2020 and is felt throughout the St. Louis subway.

According to the annual assessment by the Federal Ministry for Housing and Urban Development, homelessness rose until 2020.

Peter and Paul Community Services, who operate an animal shelter and transitional shelter in St. Louis, reiterate the increase in facilities is being felt, compounded by the ongoing effects of the pandemic.

The study found that the increase was due to an increase in unprotected and chronically homeless people and that people of color are overrepresented in these statistics.

“In a single night in January 2020,” the study said, “580,466 people – about 18 out of 10,000 people in the US – were homeless in the US.”

Over the past four years, homelessness has increased, according to the HUD, which resulted in a 2.2 percent increase in 2020 over the previous year.

“Unfortunately, that’s not a surprise,” said Adam Pearson of Peter and Paul Community Services, a facility that provides housing and resources to uninhabited people in the St. Louis area.

“There has not been enough investment in affordable housing in recent years,” he says.

The influx of unoccupied people has hit the shelter of Peter and Paul in Soulard particularly hard. The location is a meeting house, which means it is a large room with bunk beds. That makes it harder to keep social distance in the room. In the pre-COVID era, 60 men could sleep in the shelter every night. Now, despite increasing demand, they had to reduce capacity to twenty. Some nights, Pearson says, the shelter staff has to turn people away.

On a typical day before the pandemic, the doors to Peter and Paul’s shelters opened for dinner, and a flood of 60 visitors would feel at home for the night. Some would settle in their bunks. Others watched TV, played games, or used the computer lab to work on résumés or apply for jobs. Dinner would be served and guests would have the opportunity to work with case managers. In the morning, a continental breakfast would be served before the men started the day.

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Sleeping quarters and a recreation area of ​​Peter and Paul's emergency shelter in Soulard.  - PETER AND PAUL COMMUNITY SERVICES

  • Peter and Paul Community Services

  • Sleeping rooms and a recreation area of ​​Peter and Paul’s emergency shelter in Soulard.

Today, however, the shelter has to enforce capacity limits and social distancing. It gives the unoccupied community a much more personalized experience for the duration of their stay, but reduces the number of people served.

Soulard Shelter is one of three locations Peter and Paul have been forced to adjust to the new normal.

“Overnight, all of our housing and protection programs had to be changed a bit,” says Pearson.

After the first lock for 2020, Peter and Paul had their own internal lock across all programs. Garfield Place Apartments, its residential program that houses residents with severe and persistent mental illnesses, is governed by the same regulations as the rest of the city and has reduced some of their group programs to a one-on-one approach.

Their shelter is also now open all day, so people who are not housed did not have to leave “if they didn’t feel safe going to the ward,” Pearson said.

“We’re really looking forward to more and more people being vaccinated in 2021 and things to normalize a bit,” he says.

Although more and more people are showing up at their shelter, Peter and Paul have actually seen a drop in the number of visitors to their catering services. The menu located in Soulard serves meals twenty days a month.

The HUD assessment found that family homelessness remained constant from 2019 to 2020, and 90 percent of families with children were protected. Most of the support Peter and Paul give to unhodged families and couples has been through this meal service.

“One of the unexpected consequences of the pandemic is the other [meal] Services have emerged, “explains Pearson,” who has helped fill the gap and meet the need. ”

With more dining programs in St. Louis and St. Louis Counties, fewer individuals and families had to travel to get a hot meal. Pearson believes this is a beneficial consequence of the pandemic.

HUD’s study also describes the potential impact of President Biden’s American Rescue Plan Act, which was incorporated into law in March. The plan provides $ 21.5 million in rental support and provides emergency funding to states to help their residents obtain stable housing. The plan was followed by an announcement by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, extending a federal moratorium on evictions. But the moratorium will not keep everyone in their homes. St. Louis County announced plans to resume evictions this week, with a backlog of nearly 600 cases being processed.

Pearson believes the federal aid plan will “absolutely” help combat rising homelessness. He hopes some of the funds will reach those on the verge of losing their homes to ensure shelters and other resources are not overcrowded.

“Much of this fund can help keep people indoors,” he says. ”

According to Pearson, homelessness is a solvable problem in St. Louis. With only about 1,200 people going untidy on any given day, he continues to hope that with the right resources for a population at risk, the future of St. Louis could be much better.

“There has been so much more collaboration I’ve seen in the past year than at most other points,” he says. “There’s a lot of interest, a lot of passion, and an intense commitment to solving these problems.”

While the information contained in the new HUD rating seems grim, Pearson finds a silver lining. Among the visitors to the emergency shelter, 18 found permanent accommodation in 2020.

“Addressing these issues is a passion in the city and I’m glad Peter and Paul are playing a big part in it,” added Pearson.

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