Should the Welcome Center at Lambert Airport be kept open for other uses?
I wish it could. I had hoped to keep the Welcome Center open as a temporary drop-in facility for a while, even after the federal government notified us it was not going to send any evacuees from the Gulf Coast. Unfortunately, the high cost of operating the facility makes keeping it open impossible.
Remember how we got here.
The feds asked the City of St. Louis (and others) to prepare to help "thousands" of Gulf Coast residents who were left homeless by Katrina. We did that by creating the St. Louis Welcome Center.
Because the feds asked for the help, the City will still be reimbursed for its costs, which will likely run in to the hundreds of thousands of dollars. However, the feds will not pay for any costs going forward.
The utilities alone cost $500,000 per month. We will be closing the site quickly.
A local activist has demanded that the site remain open anyway. This is a bad idea.
The facility was built to be a hanger to assemble jet fighters-- not a permanent home for people. Because of its size and its proximity to the airport, the hanger did make an ideal place to host the Welcome Center, where people arriving by plane in a new city could get a whole host of services under one roof and move on to more permanent lodgings in a day or two.
Besides the high cost of the utilities, it would cost millions of dollars to convert a Lambert Airport hanger to a permanent shelter for the homeless. But, even if we could afford to convert the facility, using it as a giant homeless shelter would still be wrong.
Warehousing the homeless in one giant facility for extended periods of time runs contrary to best practices. A much better approach-- which our City is pursuing through a new ten-year plan-- is to help homeless people live in permanent housing throughout the community with access to needed services.
At Lambert or Downtown the sub-standard warehousing of people promised "a new life" is simply wrong.