Afraid of Unhoused People ‘Migrating’ to Carondelet, Residents Oppose Shelter

Peter & Paul Community Services wants to convert former church into a homeless shelter but need residents’ approval first

Mar 14, 2023 at 11:44 am
click to enlarge Peter & Paul Community Services want to open a homeless shelter in the former Saints Mary and Joseph Chapel in Carondelet. - Monica Obradovic
Monica Obradovic
Peter & Paul Community Services want to open a homeless shelter in the former Saints Mary and Joseph Chapel in Carondelet.

A nonprofit that wants to convert a vacant Carondelet church into a shelter for homeless men faces a lofty hurdle — getting the Carondelet community on board.

Carondelet residents have largely opposed Peter & Paul Community Service’s plan to house 100 single men in the former Saints Mary and Joseph Chapel off Minnesota in a residential area.

Peter & Paul, which runs the city-owned Biddle Housing Opportunity Center, wants to close its Soulard shelter and open a new, larger shelter in the Carondelet church. 

CEO Steve Campbell said the larger space would allow Peter & Paul to house more people during virus outbreaks. At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Soulard shelter went from 60 beds to 20 to reduce transmission risk. 

“Part of our goal is to not have to reduce our numbers when the next variant comes along or, God forbid, the next pandemic,” Campbell told the RFT.

The proposed emergency shelter in Carondelet would house 100 beds, provide 24-7 care, counseling and employ caseworkers to transition residents to permanent housing. 

Peter & Paul need 82 signatures, or 51 percent approval, from registered voters in the immediate area surrounding the former church in order to rezone . As of Monday afternoon, the nonprofit has collected only 11. 

If recent public meetings are any indication, getting majority approval won’t be easy. 

Residents have packed into the Carondelet Library for public meetings in the past week to oppose the shelter. As Peter & Paul higher-ups sat behind a table on a stage, residents aired their concerns. 

Some residents thought the shelter would plummet home values or lure sex offenders to their community. Others worried about open substance abuse and finding drug paraphernalia in the streets.

“We are risking our community, we are risking our neighborhood, our homes, our safety and the safety of our children,” Aiden McNamara said.

McNamara said he lives directly across the street from the proposed shelter, and voiced his opposition Thursday through a 10-minute slideshow presentation, which ended to applause and whistles from the crowd.

“We’re not against giving a person a second chance,” McNamara said. “But we’re talking about unknown, convicted felons being brought to our neighborhood to live.”

One resident was concerned the shelter would cause people experiencing homelessness to “migrate” to the Carondelet area. 

But the shelter, according to Peter & Paul Chief Operating Officer Adam Pearson, would operate on a referral basis only. Walk-ins would only be allowed during extreme weather conditions.

Most Carondelet residents who spoke at recent public meetings agreed St. Louis has a homelessness and housing problem. Shelter beds are often in scarce supply in the city, particularly during winter months. 

Still, they don’t want a shelter in their backyard.

Campbell said his nonprofit considered several locations for their new shelter, even some in the county, but chose Carondelet because the neighborhood seemed welcoming at first.

Former Alderwoman Phyllis Young, who represented Soulard and parts of downtown for 30 years, stood up for Peter & Paul at a meeting last night. 

“They’ve been good neighbors,” Young said.

Peter & Paul has been running homeless services for the past 40 years. The nonprofit opened its shelter in Soulard in 1981 after an unhoused man froze to death in the neighborhood. 

Forty years later, unhoused people still die from the cold. At least five people froze to death in the winter of 2020-2021, according to a St. Louis Public Radio investigation

“We usually struggle with having enough beds in St. Louis,” Campbell said. “If you know anything about the 211 system, it can take a number of days of continual calling before you can get a shelter bed somewhere.” 

Peter & Paul doesn’t have much time to sway Carondelet residents and gather enough signatures. 

Its sale contract allows the nonprofit 90 days to work through any contingencies, part of which is zoning, according to Campbell. The 90-period ends in early May.

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