Thanksgiving and the start of the holiday season are less than two weeks away, so I was shocked when I saw the headline, "Please don't give to panhandlers, St. Patrick Center pleads, in response to overdoses downtown". It seemed ironic that St. Patrick Center which is part of Catholic Charities would recommend not giving directly to those in need.
There are more the 1,300 homeless people in the City of St. Louis. According to a biannual federal survey, in the United States, 1.49 million people used homeless shelters and 578,424 were recorded as being without shelter: sleeping on the streets, in tents, in cars, and other exposed places. Had I not been able to research the law and act as my own attorney after a job loss, my family might have been included in those numbers. Most Americans are one or two paychecks away from homelessness.
Another organization, the New Life Evangelistic Center has provided meals, clothing, shelter and other services to the poor and homeless in St. Louis since 1972, but the city revoked their occupancy permit after Downtown residents complained. However, when those residents moved into their lofts or apartments, New Life had been there for decades. Since Monday to over 100 calls for downtown overdoses have been centered around New Life, even though there are two other homeless centers, St. Patrick and Biddle House located downtown. Common sense would lead any reasonable person to assume someone is targeting the homeless population around New Life and passing out tainted product, possible to justify closing New Life. The city even pointed to an ordinance that shelters can't be located near a school, but the school in question opened just a few years ago, maybe the city shouldn't have authorized the new school so close to the shelter.
Unfortunately, homeless services do not fully meet the needs and some people are forced to ask for assistance on the streets. I have personally called the St. Louis homeless hotline for some homeless people, only to be told there wasn't any available space at that time. So if a person can't receive services from an organization and can't ask for help on the street, what are they supposed to do? With winter coming, downtown residents should consider that the homeless can use the necessity defense to justify breaking into private property to protect themselves from the elements.
Instead of just telling people not to give money to panhandlers, I wish the St. Patrick Center would have provided tips how to help, other than simply donating money to organizations such as theirs. See "35 Ways to Help the Homeless" and "5 Things You Should Never Do When a Homeless Person Asks For Money".
The City should have worked with New Life instead of forcing them to close. Their location at 1411 Locust, is near to the main library providing access to computers and other resources, city government, courts, St. Louis University's Legal Clinic, the social security office and near multiple bus lines. However, the trend seems to be to place homeless shelters and halfway houses in struggling neighborhoods with little or no resources. City hall then pretends to be puzzled why crime rates in certain areas are high. New Life seems to be one of those rare organizations that truly genuinely helps people rather than being just another poverty pimp organization.