St. Louis Aldermen, Mayor Oppose Homeless Bill of Rights

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STREET. LOUIS – An effort to expand the city’s obligations toward the homeless appeared to be on delicate ground Tuesday after three key council members and the mayor’s office expressed opposition to some or all of the plan.

council members Anne Schweitzer, of Boulevard Heights; Michael Browning, Forest Park Southeast; and Shameem Clark Hubbard of the West End said they could not support proposed bills that would make it easier to open homeless shelters across the city and make it harder to clean up homeless encampments, and did not immediately say what reviews would make them change their minds.

“I’m frustrated because this is a serious issue,” Browning said while discussing one of the bills. “And I don’t think this is a serious bill.”

Without their support, it is unclear how Tower Grove East Councilwoman Alisha Sonnier’s proposals can make it out of committee and make it to the full board for discussion.

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Disagreement from members often considered progressive Democrats can also be a bellwether for the rest of the board.

Nick Dunne, a spokesman for Mayor Tishaura O. Jones, added to the issue Tuesday afternoon, saying Jones could not support a bill mandating the establishment of city-run encampments for those who refuse shelter, due to concerns that it would conflict with state law. .

The bills, championed by Sonnier and Council President Megan Green, are supposed to guide a more humane and effective policy for treating people living on the streets and in tents in a city that has long struggled with the lack of shelter beds and the resulting encampments.

One bill would make it easier to open shelters in neighborhoods across the city, in part by eliminating requirements for shelters to collect signatures from a majority of their closest neighbors before they begin operating. Instead, a board of city officials would consider plans for new shelters. And providers that host only a handful of people, perhaps eight or fewer at a time, might often skip that advice, too.

Another bill, called “Declaration of rights of the unhoused” would impose new restrictions on city officials when dealing with encampments like the one outside City Hall last month: Officials could not force someone to leave a camp unless they could offer a shelter bed in exchange. And they would have to build “safe camping areas” with 24-hour security and access to showers, bathrooms and social services for those who don’t want to go to shelters.

The hope is that the new policies will build confidence among people living on the streets, Promote the construction of more shelters in the city. and ultimately make it easier to get people from the tent to the bed and home.

But Schweitzer, Browning and Hubbard said they had serious questions about how the campgrounds would work and the hundreds of thousands of dollars they could cost the city.

They also expressed reservations about eliminating petition requirements that many residents see as the best way to control what comes into their neighborhoods.

Sonnier and Green were frustrated with the opposition Tuesday and urged their colleagues to tell them what they should do instead of the current bills.

Sonnier said she had been open to changes: She said, for example, that a provision exempting homeless people from public urination laws had been removed from the text.

But the city has to do something, they said.

Either leaders will watch the continued proliferation of encampments or they will have to find a way to allow more service providers to open their doors.

“We have a dilemma here,” Green said.

Although the homeless encampment in front of City Hall began around July, it wasn’t until September that the number of tents grew rapidly. After the mayor’s office announced that the camp would be vacated on October 2, there was uncertainty about how much longer the camp would be allowed to remain. Video by Allie Schallert,

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