What is it you do here?

Where else can a guy rant than on his own blog? So here I go. NLEC’s headquarters have been located at 1411 Locust Street since 1976. For thirty-seven years at this location, the church where I pastor has been sharing its resources with poor and homeless people. Since 1982 we have been bringing this poverty into viewer’s homes through KNLC-TV Channel 24. Thousands of people of all races, sexes, ages, and classes have passed through these doors. But right now the city of St. Louis can’t figure out what it is we do. There’s a name for that. It’s called willful ignorance. I learned yesterday that an attorney for residents in Downtown West has filed with the city attorney to declare our property a nuisance and have its operating license revoked.

This morning I’m standing in the lobby at this location staring at a note from a doctor at Barnes Hospital that tells me his patient cannot take the stairs, and needs a lower bunk. Amazing. Prescribing how to care for a patient who is obviously not sick enough that he can’t be sent here.
Yesterday I assisted in arranging a bus ticket for a young pregnant woman back home to a northern state. We payed for more of the ticket than originally anticipated. But what were the months of shelter nights worth? Not much to 160+ residents in the area.
A disabled man with an added mental disability stayed every night through the winter and into spring. I know he gets a check. I refer him to a nearby PATH agency that administers state mental health funds. They meet with him many times but he stops making his appointments and says he doesnt want to use his check for housing. When I find out I give him a letter that lets him know his last night is coming up and that he should accept services.
He asks me if I like him. I tell him yes, and then remind him of his appointment and his last day.
What is it we do anyway? We can’t shelter people forever. There aren’t enough beds or space. People belong in their own houses, not shelters.
But the number of doubled up families and people barely getting by is not reflected in annual federal shelter counts. The number of homeless children in city and county schools is in the thousands, but they are tucked out of public view. $1000 a month to stay in an extended stay hotel room keeps a family out of the shelter system and off the street, but it also ensures they’re trapped paying way too much for one room and a bathroom.
Social workers easily remark about clients many barriers, but I am sick of this dirty rotten stinking system. I’m tired of the apathy over how people become homeless. The shoulder shrugging over where or if shelters should be placed. This region conveniently forgets its homeless and helps reify the stigma that only lazy, ugly, useless ppl need be homeless. Thats a lie. The visible poor are our brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, grandfathers and aunts. They are being beaten, raped and murdered while we shrug and imagine our leaders must be doing all they can. Convenient lie.
I’m so grateful for the many courageous people I know who are sick of this and are telling the truth about their situation. Come join the Metro St Louis Coalition for the Homeless on May 18 at Soldiers Memorial from 1:30-3:00 PM. http://stlouishomeless.org

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