CITY HALL – The tent city opposite City Hall is going to fold. On Friday, city workers will move to various shelters the dozens of homeless people who have taken up residence in the tents along Market Street.
There about 50 people living in the tents, and its “a pretty serious situation,” Mayor Lyda Krewson said Wednesday in her live Facebook press conference. “It is a pretty serious health threat. We will be moving those folks out of the tents on Friday morning.”
Outreach workers have visited the tent city day after day, telling residents about the increased health threat of the COVID-19 coronavirus, about the need for social distancing and hygiene, and about available beds in shelters. The city has opened more shelters and arranged with hotels to put people up temporarily.
Krewson said that about 40 people had accepted shelter but that others had replaced those in the tents.
Living in a tent is not allowed under occupancy laws, Krewson pointed out. And there’s activity going on there at all hours of the day and night, in crowded quarters that allow easy spreading of diseases.
The mayor sympathized with the homeless people.
“This is difficult for them to be there,” she acknowledged. But she cited advice from the city’s health director, Dr. Fredrick Echols. He told her, she said, that “this is such a crisis, and so easy for any communicable disease to spread.”
The city’s fire chief is also concerned about the barbecue grill right next to the tents.
At 10 a.m. Friday, the campers will have to move out, and take whatever they have in the tents with them. Then the city will move in to clear the park.
“We will have, and we do have, a bed for every person that we can persuade to go into shelter,” Krewson assured listeners. That shelter will be temporary, she said, with a hope for future permanence.
Housing is the first priority in serving homeless people, she said, but explained that it’s hard to go straight from the streets to an apartment, so transitional housing is helpful, with the ultimate goal of “stable, good apartments.”
One of the temporary shelters is at Buder Park Recreational Center, which has been closed during the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. The center, at 2900 Hickory St. in the Gate District, has been cleaned and upgraded for use as a homeless shelter. There will be security, and no people with COVID-19 will be housed there. Anyone who tests positive for the virus will be housed in other shelter with medical support. Once the crisis eases, the center will return to its purpose for public recreation.
The tent city’s residents are being told about the city’s plan to move them, and they’ll get medical screenings on Thursday and Friday, Krewson said.
“We all know they are underserved,” she affirmed, so the city will bring medical services to them. Affinia Healthcare will send vans to the site to assess people for whatever conditions they might have – not just coronavirus – and get them the help they need.
Krewson reviewed the latest coronavirus statistics: 1,116 confirmed cases with 60 deaths; in St. Louis County, more than 3,000 cases with 159 deaths; St. Charles County, 587 cases with 34 deaths. The three counties account for more than 60 percent of Missouri’s cases.
Hospitalizations were down as of Tuesday, at 678, down 12 from Monday; 159 people are in ICUs, with 113 on ventilators.
It’s not time to reopen area businesses yet, she warned. She said a city task force was working with industry groups to get potential guidelines for each; those guidelines will involve social distancing.
“We know that people want to get back to church, they want to get back to their jobs,” Krewson said. But we’re not ready, chiefly because we still lack enough test kits to gauge how much the virus is still circulating.
“The testing situation is a debacle,” she said bluntly. The city has had 220,000 on order, since March. Not enough have arrived.
“A month ago, who would have ever thought that we would still be in this situation?” she asked.
Asked where the city is on the coronavirus cases curve, she answered, “We think we’re at the top, and we hope we’re headed down. And you know, you don’t know if you’re headed down until you look back.”
She urged everyone to keep up safe practices, including wearing face masks.
“Goodness, we don’t want to have to go back and do this again.”