Mayor Francis Slay and the city's Department of Human Services have a long-term plan to abolish chronic homelessness in the city -- unveiled this week, just days before the primary election.
Officials say they have been working on "The Beginning of the End: Abolishing Chronic Homelessness," (conveniently abbreviated as The BEACH Project) for quite some time and that the announcement has nothing to do with the timing of the final stretch of Slay's re-election bid.
"In St. Louis, I think we have moved very progressively and very aggressively to address the needs of chronic homeless people," Bill Siedhoff, director of the city's department of human services, tells Daily RFT. "We really believe we are on the cusp of ending chronic homelessness...and we would be the first city in the country to accomplish that."
It's important to recognize that the so-called BEACH Project focuses on chronically homeless -- people who have lived on the street for a very long time, often tied to mental illnesses or drug addictions.
The program, unveiled at a press event on Tuesday, is targeting the 138 total people in the city who are chronically homeless -- at least according to the city's recent homeless census, which involves an on-the-ground survey.
It can often be difficult to count the homeless and cities across the country have pledged to abolish chronic homelessness with commitments that can seem unreachable. But Siedhoff says he is confident that St. Louis is on track.
The BEACH Project is supported by a $1.25 million federal grant -- and starting tomorrow, officials will begin matching the chronically homeless to case workers. From there, they will be connected to services that include housing assistance, intense case management, substance abuse treatment, mental health treatment and more.
The plan involves "rapid re-housing" by the end of this year and longer term services to ensure that these individuals stay off the streets, Siedhoff explains.
"It's not emergency shelter, not transitional, but permanent supportive housing," he says. "That means you provide people with apartments and give them the services they need in order to be able to stay in the place they've been able to secure."
This program is the latest in Slay's so-called Ten-Year Plan to End Chronic Homelessness, launched in 2005.
In the final weeks of the mayoral race -- which has gotten increasingly contentious as Lewis Reed, president of the Board of Aldermen, hopes to oust Slay -- these kinds of policy announcements can seem rare, and critics have questioned the timing of the mayor's official press events.
"This was something that was planned in advance," says Siedhoff, adding, "It wasn't based on the election."
But Siedhoff, who has been with the mayor since he first stepped into office, argues that Slay's twelve years in office have helped cement a long-term vision.
"The continuity has been fortuitous," he says. "We couldn't have done it without him.... Doing things for homeless people is not gonna get you a lot of votes. I think it reflects the kind of person that he is."
His comments also reflect the theme of Slay's campaign -- that the continuation of his leadership is the best bet for St. Louis, while Reed is making the pitch to voters that change is necessary and that Slay and his administration have divided the city.
Will this initiative move forward as planned if Reed is elected?
"I'm not concerned about it," Siedhoff says. "One thing about bureaucracy is...it continues no matter who is there."
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