Pierre Brisco had been sleeping outside before finding a spot in individual tents set up in a warehouse known as Camp Cole. The result — a good night’s sleep in a cooler and safer environment.
That sleep was refreshing for Angelo Paten as well. “I’m out of the elements,” he said. “It’s relaxing here.”
The indoor camp is a 90-day solution to the trash-strewn and unwieldy encampment for people who are unhoused that formed in Interco Plaza adjacent to St. Patrick Center in Downtown St. Louis. It provides improved safety and health conditions for the community, with onsite staff from St. Patrick Center providing support and resources, including food and water. It’s spotless, with trash being disposed and hauled away properly, and access to electricity, sanitation services and hygiene facilities.
Paten, originally from Mississippi, used to sleep during the day for safety reasons, but even then he worried about someone walking up on him. He went through a divorce a couple years ago that he found overwhelming, and it led him to the streets. He has a caseworker from St. Patrick Center helping him. “It’s a great place for people when they need clothing, food and shelter,” he said of St. Patrick Center, a federated agency of Catholic Charities of St. Louis, which is supported by the Annual Catholic Appeal.
Megan Poole, St. Patrick Center’s senior director of programs for immediate support, said the St. Patrick Center Mobile Outreach team has worked with many of the people who were living at the Interco Plaza (a public park), building a relationship and trying to connect them with resources. “We want people to have a safe environment and reach their goals in that environment,” she said.
Providing a safe place opened up some of the men and women to services they were unwilling to accept previously, Poole said. “We’re getting their needs identified so we can get them to that next step while they’re here,” she said.
The St. Patrick Center Mobile Outreach team is on site every day from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. to provide case management services. The team places people on a housing prioritization list, does referrals to the center’s job training programs and refers them to collaborating outreach programs such as Places for People, BJC Behavioral Health Homeless Outreach and other substance abuse, mental health or related help. Residents also have access to St. Patrick Center’s meals program.
The indoor encampment reached its capacity of 40 people within three days of its opening on Aug. 2. Each person received a small tent, sleeping bag, tote for their possessions and a backpack with hygiene items. Quiet hours are enforced from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. The City of St. Louis provides portable toilets, a hand-washing station and a mobile shower unit.
It’s a ministry based in the Bible, Poole said, mentioning the Gospel of Matthew. (“As you did it to one of these, the least of my brethren, you did it to me,” Matthew 25:40.) “That’s what we try to do at St. Patrick Center, show that compassion of Jesus to everyone outside our doors and everyone who comes inside our doors,” she said.
The new encampment community gathers for a quick meeting each evening, some watch movies and on one recent evening enjoyed a complementary pizza delivery. “The community we created at Camp Cole restores dignity to people after living a place that was untenable and often dehumanizing,” said Anthony D’Agostino, chief executive officer of St. Patrick Center. “It creates the safety and healthy environment that they need. It’s not a permanent solution, but the start of a solution that can become permanent.”
He’s asking for people in the St. Louis community to learn about the situation and provide support through volunteering or donating. “Whatever they’re able to do, we need to come together to help people who are the most vulnerable,” D’Agostino said.
Willie Cannon lost his housing when the lease expired. He’s been unhoused about a month and is working to get housing now. St. Patrick Center does a lot of good, especially helping people find a place to live, he said. “There was a lot of raucous stuff where I was at before,” in the plaza, he said. “It’s a lot better than other places to sleep at.”
How to help
St. Patrick Center transforms lives through sustainable housing, employment and health care, following the compassion of Jesus.
The Catholic Charities agency focuses services in St. Louis City and St. Louis County, providing assistance to 3,700 individuals and families annually.
In addition to St. Louis City and St. Louis County, the Supportive Services for Veteran Families program operates in Franklin, Jefferson, Lincoln, St. Charles, St. Francois, Warren and Washington counties.
To assist with the new encampment, which currently is housing 40 people:
• Donate water bottles or snacks to St. Patrick Center
• Pray for the endeavor
Volunteer opportunities at St. Patrick Center include meal service, sorting donations, working fundraising events, performing administrative duties, making casseroles and salads, and more. For information, visit stpatrickcenter.org/volunteer or call Sarah Webb at (314) 802-0681.
For information on donating money or items or creating a fundraiser, visit stpatrickcenter.org/donate. You also may contact Amanda Laumeyer, senior director of development at (314) 802-1987 or [email protected]. Donations may be mailed to: St. Patrick Center, 800 N. Tucker Blvd., St. Louis, MO 63101.
A team of five staff members spends time in the community, getting to know the unhoused population, building a relationship and providing immediate supplies such as food, water, clothing and bus tickets.
“In building that relationship, it is our hope that we are able to help them with any goals and services they need,” said Megan Poole, St. Patrick Center’s senior director of programs for immediate support.
In March, the St. Patrick Center Mobile Outreach team partnered with St. Louis City in a new shower program. The trailer parks in a different location weekdays, and now is in the area of the encampment twice a week. Outreach team members distribute towels and hygiene products while building relationships of trust among the homeless population.
A basic moral test is how our most vulnerable members are faring. In a society marred by deepening divisions between rich and poor, our tradition recalls the story of the Last Judgment (Matthew 25:31-46) and instructs us to put the needs of the poor and vulnerable first.
The Church’s love for the poor is inspired by the Gospel of the Beatitudes, of the poverty of Jesus, and of His concern for the poor. “Those who are oppressed by poverty are the object of a preferential love on the part of the Church which, since her origin and in spite of the failings of many of her members, has not ceased to work for their relief, defense, and liberation.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, nos. 2444, 2448, quoting “Centisimus annus,” no. 57, and “Libertatis conscientia,” no. 68)
The needs of the poor take priority over the desires of the rich; the rights of workers over the maximization of profits; the preservation of the environment over uncontrolled industrial expansion; the production to meet social needs over production for military purposes. (U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, “Economic Justice for All,” no. 94)
More than housing
Assisting people who are homeless requires more than housing. Programs and support services include case management, employment and health services.
Last fiscal year, St. Patrick Center provided behavioral health services in nearly all of its programs. Each clinical staff member provided an average of 500 services to clients.
Also, St. Patrick Center had:
• 3,200 intake services
• 139,000 hot meals provided
• 180 clients who found jobs
• 24% of clients who are veterans
• 3,835 volunteers