The fate of a downtown homeless camp is uncertain because federal court judges consider whether St. officials Louis has the power to clean it.
ArchCity’s defenders on Friday asked judges to block the city from closing camps along Market Street. The request was part of a lawsuit filed by a non-profit civil rights law firm Friday in the U.S. District Court. for the Eastern District of Missouri.
The move occurred two days after city officials pinned a notice to the tent telling people to leave the camp within 48 hours.
It is not clear when Judge Sarah E. Pitlyk will give the verdict.
On Friday morning, workers approached the camp with plastic bags and tried to move tents and personal belongings. The protesters stood in the tent so they could not be moved and shouted, “No, we will not go.”
The standoff lasted several minutes. Then the city workers and the police left without cleaning the tent. Port-a-potties and the nearest public hand washing station had been moved earlier that morning.
A lawsuit ask the judge to forbid the city to close the camp unless the city provides people there suitable shelter. They also want the judge to forbid the city from issuing criminal or municipal certificates until the people there are provided shelter.
He claimed that the city criminalized the “status” of individuals who were not at home, and therefore clearing the camp was a “cruel and unusual punishment.”
“We believe this will violate their Eighth Amendment rights if they are punished just because they are homeless and have no other place to survive,” Lee Camp, a lawyer for ArchCity Defenders told the trial.
The camp was formed a few weeks ago and has been face opposition from city. City ordinances forbid people from living in tents or in parks after 10 pm
Director of Health Louis Fred Echols on April 29 ordered the tent to clean. He said it poses a public health risk spreading the corona virus.
Sufficient capacity in a homeless shelter?
Echols has promised housing for nearly 50 people who live in the camp after they have been tested for the corona virus. Echols also said he had obtained a contract with St. Patrick Center, a non-profit homeless service, to provide case workers to connect people in the camp with housing.
However, the city’s housing capacity is debated by some homeless advocates. Many shelters in this region have reduced capacity to take into account social distance guidelines. In recent weeks, Echols said the city had gotten an extra bed, but ArchCity Defender lawyer John Bonacorsi said nearly 100 people were on the waiting list for the bed.
However, Echols said enough space was provided for individuals to clean campsites in the city center.
The plaintiff in the lawsuit, Ranata Frank, said that he had waited for weeks to get housing assignments from the city, while staying at the campsite. The city attorney said there was a room made for him, but case workers could not find it, so the place was filled.
The tent camp along Market Street is the only one in St. Louis received the notification to be left blank, Echols said.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines recommend not cleaning the camp during a pandemic.
‘Not a new problem’
Local homeless service providers have criticized the city’s decision to dissolve the camp. On Thursday Louis Continuum of Care, which represents the homeless area provider, issued a letter to Mayor Lyda Krewson, who said “the lack of planning, thinking and involvement with local CoC expertise will cause additional trauma for our population who do not live at home.”
City Deputy Counsel Michael Garvin said the city must only follow the CDC guidelines if housing is not available to people.
Some individuals in the camp thought they would be arrested if they did not obey the city order to empty the park. Echols told the court there were no plans for the city to forcibly move people from the campsite Friday night at 10 pm, but did not give a clear answer whether the arrest could be carried out in the future.
Several board members, including Cara Spencer of the 20th Ward who heads the city’s Health and Human Services Committee, have criticized Krewson’s office about his approach to cleaning the camp. Spencer said the situation was the result of years of damage to trust between the homeless population and the government.
“This is not a new problem,” he said.
Spencer, who in January announced plans to challenge Krewson for the mayoral election in 2021, said the city government had failed over the past six weeks to provide adequate plans for the homeless population.
“This is a human being, and our government’s response to this pandemic will be judged by the way we treat the most vulnerable,” he said. “We failed to do that – shame on us.”
A spokesman for Krewson declined to comment.
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