New St. Louis homeless shelter approved east of Soulard over neighbor objections

Why This Matters

This is great news for expanding shelter beds in STL!

After more than two years of searching, and then five months of outreach to address neighborhood concerns, the city review board granted us the occupancy permit needed to operate a new shelter.

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By Austin Huguelet
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
February 15, 2024

ST. LOUIS — A prominent homeless services provider may have found a way to open a rare new shelter in the city after years of unsuccessful attempts.

A city review board this week approved Peter & Paul Community Services’ plan to build a 100-bed shelter in the industrial area east of Soulard, overruling nearby business owners who cast the decision as illegal and worried about an influx of public drinking, drug use and property vandalism.

“This is big for the community,” said Peter & Paul CEO Anthony D’Agostino. “This is big for next winter.”

The decision marks a rare victory for shelters looking to expand emergency services in the city at a time when advocates say there aren’t enough beds for everyone who needs them.

But opponents say the ruling can’t stand.

“It’s going to cost everyone around it a lot more money and possibly cause some businesses to close, including mine,” Edin Korkaric, who runs a trucking company nearby, said Thursday. “It’s uncalled for.”

The permission came with conditions. Peter & Paul will have to enforce loitering laws around its new facility and shuttle clients to and from the building to reduce foot traffic, for instance. But D’Agostino said that would be fine.

The agency has struggled for three years to replace the 60-bed church basement shelter it has operated in Soulard for more than 40 years. The nonprofit’s leaders have said they desperately need more room, with more amenities for clients and staff. And city and state officials gave them more than $5 million to do it.

But every time Peter & Paul leaders found a place they wanted, they were shot down.

They found another old church, Sts. Mary and Joseph Chapel in Carondelet, with everything: space for 100 homeless men, offices for caseworkers, and room for groups to meet and learn life skills or talk about staying sober.

But they ran into trouble with a petition process. City zoning laws required them to gather signatures from a majority of the property owners or registered voters living within 500 feet of their new shelter. And when they started holding meetings to broach the subject with residents, would-be neighbors lambasted the idea of putting the shelter in their working-class residential area, citing fears of criminals prowling the streets, investors fleeing and property values plummeting.

Peter & Paul found another suitable building, off South Broadway, the area’s commercial strip. But when leaders saw the petition circle would include many of the same people that opposed the church, they wrote it off.

The nonprofit’s plight eventually made headlines. Aldermen trying to do more for the homeless said Peter & Paul’s struggle illustrated the need to rethink city policy on shelter permitting.

Then, late last year, Peter & Paul started moving toward a large old building in the Kosciusko neighborhood, near Soulard, whose industrial nature offered an opportunity. When nearby property owners balked at the shelter plan, Peter & Paul got signatures from the two registered voters — who were also the two selling the building — and moved forward with a hearing for a special occupancy permit last month.

It ran into another obstacle there. Nearby business owners raised fears of environmental contamination on the property from years of industrial use. And city review board members said they needed to know more about potential liability before making a decision.

But on Wednesday, D’Agostino returned to the board with a 10-year-old study that said previous industrial uses are unlikely to be a problem. And Peter & Paul’s plan was approved.

D’Agostino said he expects neighboring businesses, which include a steel company and a trucking concern, will continue to resist the plan.

But he said that’s fine. “We’re lawyering up and getting ready for a fight,” he said. “We can’t let this go.”

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