Even as the City announces new federal grants this week to provide housing support for additional homeless families and individuals, there is a new round of complaints circulating about an old problem.
For five decades, Lucas Park, a small public park across from the St. Louis Public Library, has been a gathering place for some of the clients of several adjacent facilities that provide services for people who are homeless. Because of the shameful lack of such services in other parts of the region, the City attracts and serves a disproportionate share of the homeless population.
Over the past several years, various municipal strategies to balance the sometimes competing concerns of two diverse groups of neighbors have resulted in litigation and genuine efforts at cooperation among clients, residents, City departments, public safety officials, and social service agencies. The alderwoman who represents the area has repeatedly promised residents and homeless services providers to make the small park's renovation and maintenance a matter of her special interest. And she has done so.
In practical terms, any solution to Lucas Park is going to be a compromise. Homeless people have as much of a right to sit in a public park as anyone else. But no one, condo dweller or transient, has a right to disregard park curfews, ignore litter ordinances, or drunkenly harass each other.
For the City's part, the Human Services and Health Departments will continue to work with local providers to match homeless people up with the correct services, including places to store their belongings. The Parks and Refuse Departments will keep a close watch on the park's maintenance. The Police Department will keep up its vigilance and respond to complaints.
But, as in all public spaces, the most frequent users will continue to define it.