Peter and Paul Community Services to open safe haven in Benton Park
Work is expected to begin next month on Peter and Paul Community Services' new safe haven for homeless individuals.
The ecumenical agency -- which has roots in the local Church -- serves over 1,500 people each year who are affected by homelessness. This year marks the agency's 30th anniversary.
The safe haven will be at the former Garfield Elementary School at the corner of Jefferson Avenue and Wyoming Street in the Benton Park West neighborhood of south St. Louis. The building was purchased in March from the St. Louis Public School District for $350,000. The school, which was built in the 1930s, closed in 2003.
The facility will have 25 units for single men and women who are considered chronically homeless. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development generally defines chronic homelessness as a disabled individual who has been continually homeless for more than a year.
The safe haven also will fulfill a goal of the St. Louis 10-Year Plan to End Chronic Homelessness, which is to offer four safe havens in St. Louis City and two in St. Louis County. Announced in 2005, the plan marked its fifth year in 2011 with a progress report.
The safe haven is expected to cost about $10 million, including funding for reserves, said Peter and Paul executive director Steve Campbell. Approximately $7 million in housing and historic tax credits, along with money already raised by the agency, will be used toward the effort. A capital campaign to begin this fall will help make up the remainder needed for the project. BSI Constructors has been chosen as the general contractor. Work is expected to be completed by July 2013.
The safe haven concept is focused on housing first to provide stability, said Campbell. This is the current direction in which homeless services are moving. It's a method that's producing successful results, compared to another trend of providing a continuum of care -- gradually moving from one service to the next in an effort to gain independence -- which Campbell said sometimes could be described as "jumping through hoops."
However, he stressed that "each person is different. Some people go from our emergency shelter into transitional housing and then permanent housing. For some people, it works and it works well. For others, it doesn't. I think a range of options is the best of all worlds, because everybody's different."
"You need to put yourself in their shoes," said Campbell. "When you're chronically homeless, your horizon is really close. They're focused on, 'Where am I going to sleep tonight? Where's my next meal coming from?' If you take (those concerns) off their plate, and give them a stable environment where they can thrive, the outcomes can be incredible."
Those who come to live at the safe haven will receive three meals a day. The facility will have 20 staff members on hand to diagnose and treat residents, including a psychiatric technician, social worker, nurse, substance abuse counselor and occupational therapist. Other amenities include common areas, a gymnasium and classroom space for the agency's Positive Directions day program. Current clients were asked for input on the new facility.
Campbell said the agency's administrative offices also will move from the current location on Park Avenue to the new facility. The emergency shelter and meals program, both located at Sts. Peter and Paul Parish in Soulard, will continue.
The Benton Park neighborhood has largely been supportive of the project, said Campbell. In fact, 9th Ward Alderman Ken Ortmann pointed the agency to the building. "There's going to be a certain amount of NIMBY-ism (not in my back yard)," said Campbell, "but we've been adamant that this is permanent housing, and not a shelter." He pointed to the success of the Labre Center, the agency's transitional residential facility for homeless men, located in the former convent of St. Margaret of Scotland Parish in south St. Louis.
"The Shaw neighborhood welcomed us from the very beginning, and we've been a member of the community for 15 years," said Campbell, referring to the success of how the Labre community has blended into the neighborhood.
Campbell said the agency will be accepting referrals for the safe haven, adding that residents will undergo a psycho-social history and a background check.
Referring to the St. Louis 10-Year Plan to End Homelessness, Campbell said, "we've made a lot of progress as a city," but there is more work to be done.
10-Year Plan to End Chronic Homelessness
To learn more about the plan, visit stlouisreview.com/rOx.
To see the five-year progress report, released in 2011, see stlouisreview.com/rOa.
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