There are still metal barriers on the streets around NLEC at 1411 Locust St. We are encouraging concerned people to contact the Mayor at City Hall and ask that they be removed. In case you have not been following the story, in September the city places metal barricades on Locust Street , 15 Street and St. Charles Ave. in Downtown West in St. Louis city in an effort to keep homeless men, women, and children from sleeping on these streets. How long would these stay up? Until all of the forty or so people accepted services. So. . . . How’s that going exactly? It’s anyone’s guess. Ask people in the neighborhood about the barricades and they’ll answer with another question, “Would it be better for two year olds to be sleeping on the sidewalk?”
When I bring up, again and again, the lack of access to shelter beds and the lack of capacity available in the region, I am smiled at, the eyes roll, and I’m assured that the city is working on it. “Once the Hearth Act is fully implemented and all parties involved are onboard, you’ll notice the difference.” Wonderful. In the meantime volunteers will continue saving lives during the coldest nights of the year so that the city can take the credit and claim the system works just fine. How many more people have to be visibly homeless on the street before downtown admits there is not enough shelter available? There is no answer, and they promise there never will be. Everything is fine.
So are barricades really the answer? I KNOW they are not. They weren’t prior to September, and they are not in November, and they won’t be in January. But I’d like to look at this in context with the larger picture of the use of barricades in downtown. If you live or work in downtown you get used to having to walk or drive around construction, parades, or temporary events. This morning as I tried to navigate to 14th and Locust on a Saturday, I drove as far west as Jefferson Avenue only to be stopped by barricades and people with yellow jackets directing traffic. The only available route is Tucker to Washington Avenue. Redirecting traffic seems to have become a passion for city planners in downtown. But, with so much changing all the time, between road construction, new development, and weekend events, what is the effect on new people or people who do not often frequent the area? One word: disorientation.
The barriers in front of 1411 Locust St. are indicative of the disorientation that is the downtown St. Louis experience. “Don’t walk here, walk in the street. Don’t park here, keep moving. Park anyway, get your car towed.” Disorientation defines poverty, hunger, and homelessness in the twenty-first century. It also defines what poor people become used to from the St. Louis Metro region. “You can’t get there from here.” No income, no money, no transportation, no shelter, no friends or relatives. . . . take whatever you can get and ignore the rest. When you’re poor you don’t stop caring what people think, you just kind of stuff it and put it away with the other anxieties for awhile. You look for kindness wherever you can find it, and you do your best to survive.
Barricades make perfect sense to city planners when they use them every weekend anyway for events. They make sense when you don’t work or live on Locust St. They make sense when you don’t include the people who live and work there into planning. Downtown is the region’s playground. It’s the place to come to concerts, drink, eat, gamble, and catch all sorts of entertainment. It’s the place to run marathons, cater lots of food, be seen, and then drive away from. All of this activity involves lots of barricades. Does anyone do anything else in downtown? Does anyone care about anything else in downtown? At this point I think city planners believe that if we do, we’re patient and can put up with it. Barricades are the tax that everyone pays. Grin and bear it.