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KC Nonprofit Proposes Tiny House Village In North St. Louis To Assist Homeless Veterans

October 22, 2020 Featured, Homeless, North City, Planning & Design Comments Off on KC Nonprofit Proposes Tiny House Village In North St. Louis To Assist Homeless Veterans

Homelessness is a problem coast to coast — in big cities and in small towns, in downtowns and in the suburbs. Often it’s invisible, other times it’s too visible. One of the groups who find themselves homeless are our veterans, men & women who served our country but then fell through the big holes in what’s left of our safety nets.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) states that the nation’s homeless veterans are predominantly male, with roughly 9% being female. The majority are single; live in urban areas; and suffer from mental illness, alcohol and/or substance abuse, or co-occurring disorders. About 11% of the adult homeless population are veterans.

Roughly 45% of all homeless veterans are African American or Hispanic, despite only accounting for 10.4% and 3.4% of the U.S. veteran population, respectively.

Homeless veterans are younger on average than the total veteran population. Approximately 9% are between the ages of 18 and 30, and 41% are between the ages of 31 and 50. Conversely, only 5% of all veterans are between the ages of 18 and 30, and less than 23% are between 31 and 50.

America’s homeless veterans have served in World War II, the Korean War, Cold War, Vietnam War, Grenada, Panama, Lebanon, Persian Gulf War, Afghanistan and Iraq (OEF/OIF), and the military’s anti-drug cultivation efforts in South America. Nearly half of homeless veterans served during the Vietnam era. Two-thirds served our country for at least three years, and one-third were stationed in a war zone.

About 1.4 million other veterans, meanwhile, are considered at risk of homelessness due to poverty, lack of support networks, and dismal living conditions. (National Coalition for Homeless Veterans)

The above organization lists some stunning statistics:

DEMOGRAPHICS OF HOMELESS VETERANS

  • 11% of the homeless adult population are veterans
  • 20% of the male homeless population are veterans
  • 68% reside in principal cities
  • 32% reside in suburban/rural areas
  • 51% of individual homeless veterans have disabilities
  • 50% have serious mental illness
  • 70% have substance abuse problems
  • 57% are white males, compared to 38% of non-veterans
  • 50% are age 51 or older, compared to 19% non-veterans

It should be clear that homeless veterans are a big group. Programs to assist the general population might help some, but a targeted approach will yield better results.

Veteran homelessness is related to another problem: veteran suicide.

Veterans with a history of homelessness are five times more likely to attempt suicide than other veterans, a new study by researchers at Yale and the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs has found. (Yale)

The solution to homelessness appears to be getting them off the street and treatment for issues like substance abuse. Such treatment won’t work while on the street looking for their next meal or where to sleep. Housing becomes the key, but what kind?

Tents for homeless, downtown St. Louis in April

In the past SROs (single room occupancy) were an important housing option, but these have mostly disappeared. Tent cities are an option, but those lack privacy, showers, etc. Tent encampments are often run off from the land where they spring up. Five years ago a group opened Freedom House, a renovated apartment building, for homeless veterans. See Housing For Homeless Veterans Nearing Completion At 4011 Delmar.

A relatively new nonprofit, based in Kansas City, is trying a solution other cities have utilized: tiny houses. Veterans Community Project (VCP) now want to expand into St. Louis, focused on helping veterans with anything they need. Apparently accessing services available through the Veterans Administration (VA) isn’t easy, so they help veterans navigate the bureaucracy. They can also help veterans get other services outside those offered through the VA. And 50 tiny houses will give the men & women the security & stability they need to rebuild their lives.

At the land dedication event on friday a couple of speakers mentioned eradicating the problem of homeless veterans in Missouri. Sounds good, but homeless veterans exist outside of the Kansas City & St. Louis metro areas. While I’m skeptical about any claim to eradicate homelessness, this project will potentially make a significant dent in our total homeless population.

Let me walk you through their proposed project, then I’ll share a few areas of concern.

Located on a 5-acre property in the heart of the Jeff Vander Lou neighborhood, the Veterans Community Project campus includes a village of tiny houses for Veterans experiencing homelessness and a Veterans Outreach Center to provide walk-in support services for any Veteran in the St. Louis metro area.

VCP Village

VCP Village is a specialized community of 50 tiny homes with on-site, wraparound support services designed to equip Veterans with the tools needed to return to a stable, prosperous, independent life.

Each tiny house provides everything a Veteran needs to live with dignity and security; new furniture, appliances, housewares, bedding, personal items, and utilities – all free of charge. The homes offers sanctuary and the emotional space needed for each Veteran and VCP’s specially-trained team to thoroughly address the underlying causes of his or her homelessness.
With the support of their case managers and battle buddies, Veterans work to achieve incremental, lasting results in the areas of health and wellness, income stability, education and training, fiscal understanding, and the development of a personal support network. Once the Veteran’s individual goals are met, VCP assists him or her in securing a permanent housing solution and transitioning to a new life. 

The Veterans Outreach Center

Located on Grand Ave, the Veterans Outreach Center is a “one-stop” shop for any Veteran requiring support services such as emergency rent and utility assistance, food and hygiene kits, employment supports, military documentation and benefits navigation, and case management.

The project is modeled after VCP’s Kansas City model which has already served more than 4,100 at-risk Veterans and successfully transitioned more than 40 formerly homeless Veterans into permanent housing since its opening in 2018. (VCPSTL)

You can see an early construction aerial of their KC village here, so let’s take a look at their St. Louis proposal.

Three groupings of tiny houses would face a central area, to create the village feel.
They want to build on 3 areas around Aldine Ave & Spring Ave, west of Grand (right). Their Outreach Center is on the right, at Grand. The yellow building on the left is the village community center.

There’s a lot to like about their proposal:

  • The services to veterans seems very important, even if not homeless. Too many serving the homeless offer just one part of what they need, sending them off to find the rest. This will hopefully result in a higher success rate.
  • It’s close to the VA Hospital on Grand.
  • The number of separate structures is roughly equal to what was here in 1909 (See Sanborn map).
  • Tiny houses can be on wheels, modular, or built on site. This is the latter. These are permanent structures.
  • Tiny houses are psychologically better than other transitional options because they immediately help the individual see themselves living in their own place, independent of others. It’s a baby step toward an apartment.
  • Case managers will help keep these vets on track.
  • There’s no rent, no limit how long they can stay.
  • Ugly mostly vacant lots backed up to auto salvage businesses aren’t likely to be used for anything, especially new housing.
  • No public streets vacated!

Obviously I’m a believer in tiny houses for transitional housing for the homeless, but I do have a problem with a couple of things and I have some suggestions.

Grand Boulevard is our longest north-south corridor, with the busiest bus route (#70). Pedestrians use the bus, and as part of an urban area all new construction along Grand should be urban in placement and massing. First, here’s how they plan to face Grand.

 

Unfortunately they’ve shown the outreach center building set back behind parking, rather than up to the public sidewalks. It also requires 3 driveways interrupting the sidewalk. Very suburban design, totally inappropriate for an urban neighborhood with heavy pedestrian use.
This is easily addressed by designing the building to be located at the corner, with the entrance directly on the Grand sidewalk. Ideally it would be 2-stories, or 1-story with a raised roof area at the corner.

Rather than a curb cut leading to a garage door, this function should be off the parking lot — not interrupting the public sidewalk. The sidewalk along Grand should be as wide as possible, with tree wells, not tree lawns. This allows people who arrive by car to park in the parking lane and then step onto pavement, not grass. Same for the Aldine Ave side of the building.

From both streets you see the blank backs of the houses — no eyes on the streets.
3708 Aldine Ave will be razed. It was built in 1889. In the last decade two wood frame houses to the right were razed. At least this block has a history of different heights and materials.

In addition to the above issues I have some suggestions to improve the project.

  • Make the Aldine Ave 2-way as shown on the site plan.
  • Corner curb bulbs to narrow streets, slow drivers. Also reduces the crossing distance, adds planter opportunities.
  • Add some bioswales/rain gardens to Aldine Ave to catch water and reduce the amount of paving. With parking lanes Aldine Ave is too wide.
  • Plan for internal walkways to alleys so residents can take their trash/recycling to the dumpsters.

The main thing I’d like to see is the outreach center building be up against the Grand sidewalk — not pushed back behind parking.

— Steve Patterson

 

Opinion: Larry Rice Should Not Reopen Homeless Shelter

October 17, 2018 Downtown, Featured, Homeless Comments Off on Opinion: Larry Rice Should Not Reopen Homeless Shelter

As a resident of the City of St. Louis for 28+ years I’ve interacted with homeless persons on many occasions, mostly in the last 11 years (as of next month) I’ve lived downtown. I’ve talked to many, bought beverages/food for some, and two have been to my loft for a shower and meal.

The city’s Board of Adjustment ruled NLEC is a nuisance, and two court rulings since have confirmed the city acted properly.

I’m no social worker, but this is a subject that has held my interest for a very long time. There are five main causes of homelessness:

When Housing is Out of Reach More than at any other time, there is a lack of housing that low income people can afford. Without housing options, people face eviction, instability and homelessness. Income and Housing Affordability Low income households often do not earn enough to pay for food, clothing, transportation and a place they can call home. Connecting Homelessness and Health Health and homelessness are inextricably linked. Health problems can cause a person’s homelessness as well as be exacerbated by the experience. Housing is key to addressing the health needs of people experiencing homelessness. Escaping Violence Many survivors of domestic violence become homeless when leaving an abusive relationship. Impact of Racial Disparities Most minority groups in the United States experience homelessness at higher rates than Whites, and therefore make up a disproportionate share of the homeless population.

For years shelters required people to not be under the influence of alcohol or other substances to receive any services. Faith-based shelters often also required participation in their worship activities. This meant many would be turned away or they wouldn’t even bother going. It’s nearly impossible for those with mental health issues or addictions to address those without a safe place to sleep at night.

Aware of how service providers cobbled together a system that unintentionally victimized the people it aimed to help, Sam Tsemberis, PhD, in the 1990s developed a model known as Housing First. Its goal is to quickly provide safe, affordable, permanent housing quickly to people who are experiencing homelessness, particularly, although not solely, those with chronic homelessness and co-occurring conditions such as mental illness or substance use disorders. Housing First programs require few or no preconditions, such as participation in mental health or substance use disorder treatment, from the people they serve. In addition to permanent housing, Housing First programs provide a wide range of wraparound services that are readily available to participants and offered assertively, but not required. Studies show that that when people experiencing homelessness are given safe, stable, affordable housing, they are better able to address other problems and needs in their lives, such as substance use disorders and mental illness. As a result, homelessness, frequent use of hospital emergency departments, and psychiatric hospitalizations are reduced. (Social Work Today)

Of course, Housing First doesn’t work for everyone, but expecting those with substance abuse problems to suddenly stop while living on the streets is unrealistic.  Sorry, prayer won’t change their behavior on the streets.

Larry Rice doesn’t want the homeless housed so they can get treatment and their lives in order. He counts on people donating to help the cause. That’s his business model. From what I gather, he personally lives modestly — good. So do many of the people sending him money.

Last year Rice sold his TV station, channel 24, for a tidy sum:

According to filings with the Federal Communication Commission, TV-49 Inc. will pay $3.75 million to buy the independent station from Rice’s nonprofit New Life Evangelistic Center Inc. The station has broadcast secular programming, liberally interspersed with Rice’s religious sermons and calls to social activism, since it first hit the airwaves on Sept. 12, 1982. The sale does not include Rice’s property at 1411 Locust Street in downtown St. Louis — a building that had been used as a homeless shelter for years until it was closed in April by St. Louis city officials. (Post-Dispatch)

KNLC’s is now part of Chicago-based Weigel Broadcasting, channel 24.1 is the new MeTV affiliate.  Their 24.2 does still broadcast Rice’s religious programming.

Here are the results of the recent non-scientific Sunday Poll:

Q: Agree or disagree: Larry Rice should be allowed to reopen 1411 Locust as a day shelter for the homeless.

  • Strongly agree: 6 [14.63%]
  • Agree: 2 [4.88%]
  • Somewhat agree: 3 [7.32%]
  • Neither agree or disagree: 0 [0%]
  • Somewhat disagree: 2 [4.88%]
  • Disagree: 8 [19.51%]
  • Strongly disagree: 20 [48.78%]
  • Unsure/No Answer: 0 [0%]

Back to the two previously homeless individuals that have been in my loft. The first, ‘FC’, ceased being homeless 10 years ago today. That’s the day I let him begin staying in my previous residence — a corner storefront building in the Mount Pleasant neighborhood. This arrangement helped both of us — a safe place for him and someone there to keep the property safe from vandals/thieves. FC lived there for a couple of years — the new owners allowed him to stay a while after I sold it.  He’s since gotten married, he and his wife bought a home together a few years ago.

FC is older than I am, but the other, DT, is roughly half my age. In 2016 I helped him get out of St. Louis so he could return to his family in Washington state. Both made some bad decisions in life, both were addicted to narcotics.

Remember, many homeless receive VA or disability income, work, etc. There are people on the streets that look homeless, their “job” is to take advantage of those who are homeless. It’s important to keep the homeless separated from those who prey on them. That includes the religious.

— Steve Patterson

 

Sunday Poll: Should Larry Rice Be Allowed To Reopen His Homeless Shelter?

October 14, 2018 Downtown, Featured, Homeless, NLEC, Religion, Sunday Poll Comments Off on Sunday Poll: Should Larry Rice Be Allowed To Reopen His Homeless Shelter?
Please vote below

Last month a 2nd court ruled against Larry Rice and his downtown homeless shelter:

The Missouri Court of Appeals upholds a lower court ruling that found the city of St. Louis acted properly when it shut down the New Life Evangelistic Center homeless mission in April of 2017.

The center’s director, the Reverend Larry Rice says, it’s hard to re-open when he can’t get petition signatures from neighbors in the locked loft next door.

“What’s really made this difficult is the people they want us to get signatures from are the people that put in the petition in order to stop us from doing the shelter,” Rice said, “At the same time, we’re willing to do our individual appeal to each person that lives in the loft next door at 15th and Locust, the management of those lofts refused to give us access.”

Rice says he may seek a court order granting him access to the building to talk to knock on doors of residents.

Also, he plans to appeal to the Missouri Supreme Court and argue that his homeless shelter is a “local church” and has a Consitutional right to stay open to serve its congregation–the homeless. (KMOX)

Today’s non-scientific poll is about Larry Rice and his former shelter.

Today’s poll closes at 8pm tonight. The usual number of votes is around 28-32 so if there’s an effort to influence the outcome it’ll be very obvious. My thoughts on Wednesday.

— Steve Patterson

 

Readers: NLEC’s Closure Will Not Be A Negative For St. Louis

April 5, 2017 Downtown, Featured, Homeless, NLEC Comments Off on Readers: NLEC’s Closure Will Not Be A Negative For St. Louis

An overwhelming majority of those of voted in the recent non-scientific Sunday Poll don’t think the closure of Larry Rice’s New Life Evangelistic Center (NLEC) will be a long-term negative.

A: Agree or disagree: today’s closure of the New Life Evangelistic Center (Rice’s homeless shelter) will be a long-term negative for St. Louis.

  • Strongly agree 7 [11.67%]
  • Agree 3 [5%]
  • Somewhat agree 2 [3.33%]
  • Neither agree or disagree 1 [1.67%]
  • Somewhat disagree 4 [6.67%]
  • Disagree 12 [20%]
  • Strongly disagree 30 [50%]
  • Unsure/No Answer 1 [1.67%]

The majority are correct, if the closure remains permanent it’ll be neutral to slightly positive for everyone — including those who end up homeless.

NLEC Monday morning

Rice is motivated to keep homeless a visible problem on the streets — that brings in followers and donations. The rest of us concerned about the homeless want to get the homeless off the streets as quickly as possible. The last homeless person I helped had only been on our streets one night when I met him.

If it stays closed, his current supporters will eventually realize religion classes & cold baloney sandwiches isn’t the solution to homelessness

— Steve Patterson

 

 

Sunday Poll: Will NLEC’s Closing Be Positive Or Negative In The Long-Term?

April 2, 2017 Downtown, Featured, Homeless, NLEC, Politics/Policy, Sunday Poll Comments Off on Sunday Poll: Will NLEC’s Closing Be Positive Or Negative In The Long-Term?
Please vote below

Late last week Larry Rice said his downtown emergency emergency shelter, the New Life Evangelistic Center will close today:

Rev. Larry Rice said he will comply with a judge’s order and close his downtown shelter.

The New Life Evangelistic Center (NLEC) will be ceasing operations on 5:00 p.m. Sunday. A judge refused Rice’s request to keep the shelter on open Thursday. (Post-Dispatch)

Rice said he hopes the closure is temporary.  Today’s poll assumes the closure is permanent:

NLEC will close at 5pm, this poll closes at 8pm.

— Steve Patterson

 

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