No jurisdiction in the St. Louis region does as much for homeless people as does the City of St. Louis. A compassionate constituency, a good plan, some great advice, the cooperation of dozens of social services agencies, and some timely Federal assistance secured by our Congressional delegation have made the City’s plan to end homelessness a national model. Hundreds of chronically homeless people have found the combination of services and accommodation they need to get off the streets and get on with their lives.
A side effect of having a good program — combined with the general abdication of responsibility by many surrounding municipalities — is that St. Louis , particularly, downtown St. Louis draws almost all of the region’s homeless here. If you wanted to be homeless in Ladue, where would you go?
All of that is an introduction to an apology.
Yesterday was a low point in the City’s hospitality. Badly supervised City employees callously destroyed the possessions of some homeless people who had chosen to camp illegally and for a extended period of time in a public park outside the windows of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Relocating people from public parks and other locations is not an unusual occurrence. It happens regularly, and it is part of a continuum of efforts to get people off the streets and into permanent, safe, supportive housing. What is unusual — and wrong — is bringing a garbage truck and using it.
The City’s social services agency has an explicit protocol for the situation. Possessions left behind in parks are to be tagged, safely stored, and returned — if possible — to their owners. That is what is supposed to happen. That is what did not happen this time.
Social services director Bill Siedhoff says that his agency will work with other departments to salvage what can identified — and will replace what cannot be saved. He will also rehearse the standard operating procedures with all the relevant City agencies.
This should not have happened. I am very, very sorry it did.