Homeless services effort take fresh approach

Rebecca V. Tower
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Paul May and Virgil Akins are on board with the aim of the Biddle Housing Opportunities Center that opened in St. Louis Aug. 8.

The men are homeless and came to the center to get help and to stay off the streets. Biddle is a new initiative that offers a comprehensive pathway to housing and support services for people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. It is a partnership among St. Patrick Center, Peter & Paul Community Services, the City of St. Louis and the St. Louis Continuum of Care board.

"I most definitely want to get into housing," said Akins, who has been staying at a homeless shelter. He worked as a caregiver to an elderly person and became unemployed and without a place to live when he no longer was needed.

"It would feel good to have my own place with my own shower" said May, who said housing equals freedom.

St. Patrick Center, a Catholic Charities agency, and Peter & Paul, which has ties to Sts. Peter and Paul Church in Soulard and other parishes, will provide housing and emergency shelter services at the opportunities center. St. Patrick Center will oversee needs assessments, connections to resources, referrals, meals and housing placements for up to 125 men, women and children. Peter & Paul will provide onsite client support and program management and will direct the emergency overnight shelter for up to 98 men.

Judson Bliss, chief program officer of St. Patrick Center, called the center "a place to begin the journey out of homelessness." Clients will work on a housing plan to avoid a long-term stay in a shelter, Bliss said. Staying in a shelter — at a cost of $35 a day per client — is more expensive than housing

When clients arrive, they meet with a prevention specialist to see if they can avoid becoming homeless by staying with a friend or family member or making another arrangement. Some 25 percent of people who seek help have few barriers to housing and can be assisted with counseling or resources such as rent or utility assistance or mediation. Another 50-55 percent have struggles that make it more difficult finding housing. The staff assists them with programs such as Rapid Rehousing, a HUD initiative that provides under a year's case management.

Steve Campbell, executive director of Peter & Paul Community Services, said the new approach is to have "a front door to the system, this Biddle Housing Opportunities Center, where people will come and meet with someone on staff. There will be a needs assessment so we can tell if they are a part of that 25 percent that doesn't need a lot of assistance, where they have been homeless only a week or so and can get back on their feet pretty easily."

The assessment determines if there's a domestic abuse situation, addiction, developmental disability, mental illness or other need that can be helped by a referral to another agency.

Typically 15 to 20 percent of homeless clients need supportive housing with services and case management for as long as it is needed — often four or five years. St. Patrick Center and Peter & Paul are among groups that provide such permanent supportive housing.

St. Patrick Center CEO Laurie Phillips said in a statement that "our ambitions remain the same — ending chronic homelessness in St. Louis." St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay said the new center "will meet people 'where they are' to help move them out of the facility and into stability and permanent housing."

Joseph Henderson, who had been homeless two years after leaving his job and moving out of state to care for an ill parent, came to St. Patrick Center for help. He now has housing under the Shelter Plus program and will be working in the kitchen at the Housing Opportunities Center.

Charlton Jones, 61, is a school bus driver who has been without a place to stay for about three months. He hopes his homelessness ends soon.

Akins said that homeless people have various circumstances that left them homeless, and he urged people not to judge them. "We're not bad people, we just fell on bad luck," he said. 

Biddle Housing Opportunities Center

WHAT: A new initiative on North Tucker Boulevard in Downtown St. Louis that seeks to be a step in ending chronic homelessness.

HOW: By implementing Housing First strategies — a homeless assistance approach to focus on housing for people experiencing homelessness, while also providing supportive services as needed. Goals are set, helping prevent a return to homelessness.

WHO: St. Patrick Center, which provides opportunities for self-sufficiency and dignity to people who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless; and Peter & Paul Community Services, which provids housing and support services through its shelter, meals program and transitional and permanent supportive housing. They work with Continuum of Care agencies — a network of nonprofits, government and other organizations — to refer people for housing placements and related services

WHY: To end homelessness. Melds coordinated intake and assessment, housing options and support services with emergency shelter, when needed. 

Cost factor

Alternatives are much cheaper than the average of $12,775 per person it costs to live in a shelter per year ($35 a day or $1,050 per month).

• Homelessness prevention costs an average of $600 per person — a one-time expense. In the St. Louis region, about 25 percent of the homeless population fit in this category.

• Rapid rehousing, with support services and case management, costs an average of $7,000 per person per year, also a one-time expense. In the St. Louis region, about 55 percent of the homeless population fit this category.

• Permanent supportive housing, with support services and case management, costs an average of $10,000 per person per year, an ongoing expense. In the St. Louis region, about 20 percent of the homeless population fit this category 

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