“Historic” vote means a new strategy in St. Louis to reduce homelessness

Why This Matters

The decades-old City Continuum of Care is shaking things up in homeless services. St. Louis nonprofit newcomer House Everyone STL (HESTL) has been entrusted with drafting a plan to allocate $14 million in federal funding.

The move marks a historic moment in St. Louis to improve outcomes. Inspired by successful models in Texas, HESTL aims to unite sectors for a stronger approach to end homelessness.

Hats off to our CEO Anthony D’Agostino, former PPCS COO and current Director of the Department of Human Services Adam Cisroe Pearson, and Sons & Daughters of Soulard Chair Jay Shields for moving this effort forward.

Continue reading or visit stltoday.com for the full article

By Tony Messenger
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Dec 18, 2023

ST. LOUIS — Samantha Stangl was ready to address the proverbial elephant in the room.

She was standing before 30 of the region’s top leaders in providing services to unhoused people. These are the folks who trudge through the snow on a cold winter night, finding people huddled on a steam grate, or in the woods, or under a highway overpass. The goal is to take them to a shelter, or at least provide blankets and coats so they don’t freeze.

They’re the folks who feed an evicted family and help find a hotel room for a couple of nights. They’re the folks who work tirelessly to help our neighbors in need.

They were on the verge of making a historic decision. For more than two years, most of these leaders have been preparing for a major change in how homeless services are funded and organized.

Every year, there has been a conflict among providers that ended with people who lack shelter suffering even more. There are often clogs in the flow of money from the federal government to the city, and to the organizations doing work on the streets. There are conflicts between nonprofits and City Hall. There are fingers pointed. Encampments closed. Deaths that are preventable.

This is the story of homelessness in St. Louis and most major cities in America.

The solution conceived by local nonprofit and business leaders was to look to Houston and Dallas. There, the systems for reducing homelessness have been re-configured and infused with federal money and philanthropic donations. But the path to success — putting more people into affordable housing and connecting them with social services — is paved with obstacles.

That’s what Stangl was at the Salvation Army in Midtown to talk about. She’s the executive director of a nonprofit, created by other nonprofit leaders, to help solve some of the problems of the past. Called House Everyone STL, the group and its leaders were at the monthly meeting of the Continuum of Care with a request. They wanted to be entrusted with writing the plan that secures about $14 million in federal funding each year to address homelessness in St. Louis.

“True system change is painful,” Stangl said.

Nobody in the room knew that more than Anthony D’Agostino. The chairman of the Continuum of Care, he is also CEO of Peter and Paul Community Services, one of the largest local providers of homeless services. D’Agostino started the wheels in motion to create House Everyone STL. But earlier this year, the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development told D’Agostino that since he helped create the organization, it would be a conflict of interest for him to give it the new power so many people in St. Louis hoped it could have.

So over the past several months, the various nonprofit providers and Adam Pearson, head of the Department of Human Services for the city, forged a path forward. There would be new leadership at the Continuum of Care to remove conflicts of interest. The city and House Everyone STL would work together to improve the delivery of funding and services.

But the members of the Continuum of Care would ultimately decide whether it was the city government — as it always has been — or House Everyone STL that would organize the plan to divvy up the federal dollars.

The vote came Thursday, after Stangl and her board chairman, Tim Huffman, made their pitch. After a long and difficult process, House Everyone STL is ready to fulfill the mission for which it was designed.

Now comes the heavy lifting. With the affirmative vote, House Everyone STL will try to do something that has been lacking in St. Louis: bring together government, nonprofit and business leaders to devise a unified and well-funded plan to tackle homelessness.

It’s not that there hasn’t been tremendous effort from dozens of organizations on the ground. But the most successful models for reducing homelessness have all the players singing from the same hymnal — with an organized plan to move people into housing quickly and efficiently. That hasn’t always been the case in St. Louis. It must be if whatever plan House Everyone STL writes for 2024 is going to make a difference.

“I would love it if we would have had some of these big-picture conversations 20 years ago,” Pearson told me in an interview last week.

They’re happening now, and he says the city and House Everyone STL are working to collaborate and create momentum.

“This is a historic moment,” Huffman said. “I genuinely believe that St. Louis has a solvable homelessness issue.”

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