What do you turn your thermostat down to at night in this frigid weather? 65? 60? 8? Oh, pardon me. That last option is only for homeless people. Nobody knows exactly how many of them in St. Louis slept outside last weekend, but one way to gauge it is to note that fifty to sixty people showed up each night at the Centenary Methodist Church downtown because they knew that members of The Winter Outreach program, which operates out of that location, has been shuttling a few of them to the rare shelter beds that are available aside from Larry Rice’s New Life Evangelical. Some nights a dozen beds were available; other nights, maybe twenty. And those beds were only available on nights when the temperature was predicted to be 22 degrees or lower. (Do you ever set your thermostat at 25?)
Twelve available beds or twenty meant that at least forty people huddled in sleeping bags or under blankets somewhere. And that’s besides all the people who didn’t show up at Centenary. So Mo of MoKaBe’s Coffee House on Grand has been agitating for the city to make good on its promise to get a permanent winter shelter up and running. And by agitating, I don’t mean a daily call to City Hall. I mean, more like hourly.
Monday night, the city fulfilled its promise and opened a fifty bed shelter down near the water tower at Blair and Grand. What great news that is for these homeless people, especially since it will be open every night until March, and those who arrive there this early in the season can reserve a permanent spot for the winter.
I showed up at Centenary Tuesday night to see the Winter Outreach program in action. Sixty people crowded into a small chapel, most of them with a large trash bag full of their belongings and perhaps a backpack as well. They were killing time by listening to a Salvation Army worker talk about his faith and the importance of love. They were patient and polite, partly because that was a better arrangement than waiting outside in the cold and dark until 6:30–which is what they had been doing on previous evenings until the drivers were ready to take them to a shelter. Finally a social worker named Sarah arrived and arranged a lottery for the twelve beds available at Metro Community Church. That location was popular because it’s a known entity to these folks and because it’s not all that far from Centenary. Sarah explained that the city shelter has a downside: it’s several miles from the downtown locations that offer food during the day. These people have empty pockets, in other words no money for bus tickets. And the word that evening was that there would be some bus tickets
available but that there was no guarantee that a person who stayed there would be able to get back downtown.
That left Lorenzi, a man who didn’t get a Lottery spot at MCC with a decision to make: he had to be downtown the next morning, not just for food and medical reasons, but because he’s getting tutored in math every morning so that he can pass the entrance exam for the electrician training program at Ranken Technical School.
When I left, Lorenzi hadn’t decided yet whether to sleep on the street or take his chances on getting a bus ticket at the city shelter. He pulled a sleeping bag out of his trash bag and explained that “all you need is a sleeping bag and about four covers, and you can prob’ly make it out here, as long as you sleep in your clothes. Gonna be mighty cold if you gotta get up and go to the bathroom, but ….”
If you’re interested in preventing the Lorenzis of the city from having to make such a tough choice, you can contribute some money for bus tickets. Mo Costello, owner of MoKaBe’s Coffee House, is the treasurer for an effort to collect funds for this purpose. You can make a check out to MoKaBe’s Inc. and send it to:
MoKaBe’s Coffee House
St. Louis, MO 63106