[Hpn] St. Louis, MO - As demand grows, homeless shelters struggle - St Louis Post-Dispatch - November 05, 2003
Thu, 6 Nov 2003 04:37:14 -0500
As demand grows, homeless shelters struggle
St. Louis center receives a higher number of requests
in one month than the number of households it was able
to assist in an entire year.
Gov. Holden said, "Every day 26,100 Missourians
By MARIANNA RILEY - St Louis Post-Dispatch - November 05, 2003
St. Louis, MO - The days drag for little Leonard Nelson, and the
nights aren't long enough.
He goes daily with his grandmother, Mae Fuller, 47, to get a free
hot meal at the St. Patrick Center in downtown St. Louis. They
are homeless and feeling hopeless, especially since the death of
her husband, James Fuller, 51, less than three weeks ago.
His death came after the family was evicted from their home,
which had been condemned. But not before the sewer backed up into
the basement, ruining most of their belongings. They left with
nothing but the clothes on their backs and her Bible.
Fuller and Leonard are part of a growing homeless problem in the
St. Louis metro area. People in the emergency shelter network say
the problem has been getting steadily worse over the past few
years, with more people needing rent and mortgage assistance and
more families facing homelessness.
The number of requests for emergency shelter has increased 46
percent over 2001, according to records supplied by the Housing
Resource Center, which functions as a clearinghouse for such
requests. The center also operates a housing crisis hotline,
which last year fielded more than 23,000 calls for help.
According to the center's records, more than half the homeless
people in this area are children, and more than one-third are
Shelters close their doors
Complicating the increased demand is the closing of more and more
shelters, victims themselves of financial shortfalls. The latest
is AL-PAC, a shelter in Pacific that provided 23 to 30 emergency
beds for homeless families, mostly women and children.
The Rev. Larry Rice, of the New Life Evangelistic Center, said
his center has seen a 150 percent increase in women and children
"After last Christmas we started setting up air mattresses in our
worship studio for women and children," he said. "We thought it
was for a few weeks, but the numbers keep on growing."
Rice blames a variety of factors, including the economy as well
as the destruction of many units of affordable housing over the
Katrina Knight, director of the Housing Resource Center, said her
records show that at the present rate, the St. Louis center
receives a higher number of requests in one month than the number
of households it was able to assist in an entire year. At the
same time, funds for addressing the problem have been cut.
Knight's organization will go into next year with $50,000 less
from a block grant that is one of her biggest funding sources.
At the Housing Resource Center, where she'd just applied for
emergency housing, Denise Bennett, 48, was wiping tears as she
talked one day last week.
"I'm depressed," she said. Disabled by degenerative joint
disease, she suffers from depression and needs regular
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"I'm out of a job, out of an apartment, I'm out of everything,"
she sighed, trying hard to smile. "I'm very sad today."
Bennett expected to spend the night in her car. She's late on
that payment, but thinks she will be able to manage it. She was
hoping that some emergency shelter would be available by the next
She was told there an opening in a shelter program called Room at
the Inn, but she couldn't make it by the 2 p.m. deadline. She
would cross her fingers and hope the vacancy was still there the
Knight says she has run out of adjectives to describe the problem
associated with the burgeoning homeless population. "Terrible,
devastating, overwhelming . . . I've used them all. It's hard not
to get discouraged, and it's hard to celebrate your successes
when you know how many families' needs are going unmet."
In Illinois, officials at some of the biggest shelters say they
are seeing a large increase in people who have suddenly lost
their homes and in chronic homelessness - people who have been
homeless for at least several months and for whom homelessness
has become a way of life.
Paulyn Snyder, a social worker at Holy Angels Shelter in East St.
Louis, said that each day five to seven families are turned away
from the shelter, which provides 23 to 25 beds for both the
chronic and emergency cases. In areas where last year they served
15 to 35 homeless people on the street, this year they are seeing
75 to 100, and she thinks that throughout the city the number
would be four or five times as large.
A new approach
Missouri and St. Louis officials are targeting chronic
homelessness in an effort to assist the homeless population.
Mayor Francis Slay has directed his staff to come up with a plan
to end chronic homelessness within 10 years. He said that
chronically homeless people make up about 10 percent of the
homeless population but consume about 50 percent of the
On Monday, Missouri Gov. Bob Holden also signed an executive
order to end chronic homelessness in 10 years. "Every day 26,100
Missourians experience homelessness," Holden said.
"All of us recognize that the 10-year plan is an ambitious goal.
But it is a goal we must strive to attain for the good of our
citizens, the welfare of our state and the sake of our future."
Slay said he wanted to take a new approach. "Instead of enabling
homeless people, we want to engage them," he said. "We want to
bring them into a supportive program, to have caseworkers who
will follow them, to address problems of mental illness and
chemical dependencies. It will be more expensive on the front
end, but in the end it will save money."
Meanwhile, Mae Fuller says she hopes to find a job. She quit a
job driving a school bus in order to care for her husband. He
suffered from diabetes, needing dialysis three or four times a
week and eventually requiring amputation of his feet. He could no
longer work his landscaping and carpentry jobs.
They were in the New Life Evangelistic Center, when three weeks
ago, James Fuller had a heart attack. He later had to have his
leg amputated. A few days later he died.
Fuller was both sad and angry, but she has reasons to keep going.
One is Leonard, known to everyone as "Scooby-Doo," as well as his
two school-age brothers.
After James Fuller died, Leonard, 5,
sought to comfort Mae Fuller, who had adopted him and his
brothers. "I'm gonna have to protect you, granny," he said.
Fuller would like to get certified to drive a bus again. She's
also willing to clean houses. She suffers from her own health
problems and regularly takes nitroglycerin for her heart. She has
ulcers and asthma and can't eat much because of a problem with
Sitting at a park near St. Patrick Center, Fuller shakes her head
as she reflects on her bad luck. "I used to see these (homeless)
people hanging out here, and I thought, 'I hope that never
happens to me.'"
Reporter Marianna Riley
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