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Will St. Louis Be the First City to End Chronic Homelessness? Officials Unveil Housing Plan

homeless image.jpg
Mayor Francis Slay and the city's Department of Human Services have a long-term plan to abolish chronic homelessness in the city -- unveiled this week, just days before the primary election.

Officials say they have been working on "The Beginning of the End: Abolishing Chronic Homelessness," (conveniently abbreviated as The BEACH Project) for quite some time and that the announcement has nothing to do with the timing of the final stretch of Slay's re-election bid.

"In St. Louis, I think we have moved very progressively and very aggressively to address the needs of chronic homeless people," Bill Siedhoff, director of the city's department of human services, tells Daily RFT. "We really believe we are on the cusp of ending chronic homelessness...and we would be the first city in the country to accomplish that."

How?

It's important to recognize that the so-called BEACH Project focuses on chronically homeless -- people who have lived on the street for a very long time, often tied to mental illnesses or drug addictions.

The program, unveiled at a press event on Tuesday, is targeting the 138 total people in the city who are chronically homeless -- at least according to the city's recent homeless census, which involves an on-the-ground survey.

Francis Slay campaign image.JPG

It can often be difficult to count the homeless and cities across the country have pledged to abolish chronic homelessness with commitments that can seem unreachable. But Siedhoff says he is confident that St. Louis is on track.

The BEACH Project is supported by a $1.25 million federal grant -- and starting tomorrow, officials will begin matching the chronically homeless to case workers. From there, they will be connected to services that include housing assistance, intense case management, substance abuse treatment, mental health treatment and more.

The plan involves "rapid re-housing" by the end of this year and longer term services to ensure that these individuals stay off the streets, Siedhoff explains.

"It's not emergency shelter, not transitional, but permanent supportive housing," he says. "That means you provide people with apartments and give them the services they need in order to be able to stay in the place they've been able to secure."

This program is the latest in Slay's so-called Ten-Year Plan to End Chronic Homelessness, launched in 2005.

In the final weeks of the mayoral race -- which has gotten increasingly contentious as Lewis Reed, president of the Board of Aldermen, hopes to oust Slay -- these kinds of policy announcements can seem rare, and critics have questioned the timing of the mayor's official press events.

"This was something that was planned in advance," says Siedhoff, adding, "It wasn't based on the election."

But Siedhoff, who has been with the mayor since he first stepped into office, argues that Slay's twelve years in office have helped cement a long-term vision.

"The continuity has been fortuitous," he says. "We couldn't have done it without him.... Doing things for homeless people is not gonna get you a lot of votes. I think it reflects the kind of person that he is."

His comments also reflect the theme of Slay's campaign -- that the continuation of his leadership is the best bet for St. Louis, while Reed is making the pitch to voters that change is necessary and that Slay and his administration have divided the city.

Will this initiative move forward as planned if Reed is elected?

"I'm not concerned about it," Siedhoff says. "One thing about bureaucracy is...it continues no matter who is there."

Send feedback and tips to the author. Follow Sam Levin on Twitter at @SamTLevin.


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17 comments
Karen Hall
Karen Hall

why would anyone want to be homeless? :/

Karen Hall
Karen Hall

why would anyone want to be homeless? :/

Peggy Keller
Peggy Keller

You realize that homelessness has economic impacts besides that of the actual issue of sheltering the homeless, right? Ask the businesses where these guys hang around how it impacts their bottom line if some urine reeking begged uses his right to assemble in front of their coffee shop.

Steve Mincer
Steve Mincer

translation for non-liberals = we're going to throw a bunch of taxpayer money down the toilet.

Steve Mincer
Steve Mincer

translation for non-liberals = we're going to throw a bunch of taxpayer money down the toilet.

Peggy Keller
Peggy Keller

They may choose to remain homeless, but if they have a case manager working with them and they can get meds, once the meds kick in they might decide that is not what they really want.

Peggy Keller
Peggy Keller

They may choose to remain homeless, but if they have a case manager working with them and they can get meds, once the meds kick in they might decide that is not what they really want.

Mark Lodes
Mark Lodes

We have people who prefer to be homeless, so no. We can't have freedom & an end to homelessness, not while people want to be homeless.

Mark Lodes
Mark Lodes

We have people who prefer to be homeless, so no. We can't have freedom & an end to homelessness, not while people want to be homeless.

Allen Ward
Allen Ward

How about just picking all the homeless up, putting them on a train and ship them to Detroit?? Problem solved.

Chris Unthank
Chris Unthank

no a lot of the homeless want to be homeless...you'll never end it period.

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