Biddle House Will Scale Back One-Stop Homeless Services Under New Provider


Biddle Housing Opportunities Center off North Tucker Boulevard will no longer serve daytime-only clients. - DOYLE MURPHY
  • Biddle Housing Opportunities Center off North Tucker Boulevard will no longer serve daytime-only clients.

Starting next week, the city's primary homeless shelter, Biddle House, will drop services for people not staying overnight.

The services, which currently include lunch for daytime walk-ins, are scheduled to end August 1 as part of the transition to a new, Ohio-based operator, the city says. There will still be meals at Biddle, but only for the men who land one of the shelter's 101 beds.

The city-owned facility opened two years ago in a renovated brick building just north of downtown. It was designed to be a hub of resources and programs. Two local nonprofits — the St. Patrick Center and Peter & Paul Community Services — ran it together.

The idea was to give people a centralized location where counselors and case workers could figure out what they needed and get them help instead of leaving them to hopscotch among agencies for different services.

To that end, the daytime services were open to a wide array of people, whether they spent their nights there or not. Even the facility's full name — Biddle Housing Opportunities Center — was meant to lessen the focus on the emergency shelter aspect of the operation and emphasize the other programs for getting people back into permanent housing as fast as possible.

The future of Biddle is now set to be a less-central, although still significant, role player in St. Louis' Continuum of Care, the network of government agencies, healthcare providers and nonprofits striving to tackle homelessness in the city.

"We're trying to get away from the one-stop shop fits all, and really home in every organization's unique gifts to help move people with the appropriate services," says Tammy Laws, chair of the Continuum of Care.

Laws and other officials from the city and homeless service providers spoke during a news conference today at City Hall. It was the first public media event in St. Louis for Tina Patterson, the CEO of Homefull, the Dayton, Ohio, nonprofit that will take over operations of Biddle on October 1.

She says the agency will focus on working with area partners, rather than try at Biddle to take on all the problems of homelessness themselves.

"Our goal is to end homelessness here for people," Patterson told reporters. "Our goal is to focus on getting people rapidly rehoused. We cannot do that — because we're new — we cannot do that alone."

The city selected Homefull after finding little to no interest in running Biddle from local organizations. St. Patrick Center spokeswoman Kelly Peach previously told the RFT it didn't apply to renew its contract because running the facility was outside the scope of its mission. Steven Campbell, executive director of Peter & Paul, said that once St. Patrick was out, it was too expensive an undertaking for his organization to run alone.

Both St. Patrick and Peter & Paul remain part of the Continuum of Care and offer some of the same services they did at Biddle, only now at their own facilities. People who used to drop in at Biddle for lunch will now be referred to the cafe at St. Patrick, a short walk south on Tucker Boulevard, or any of a variety of other options. The nonprofit will also be the lead site for intake and assessments for people looking to tap into the Continuum of Care's network of services.

Peter & Paul will continue to run its shelter and meals program in the Soulard neighborhood.

Part of the reason the city settled on Homefull was its experience with the "housing first" model that St. Louis has worked to implement in recent years. The approach focuses on putting people immediately — or as quickly as possible — into permanent housing. Once they're stabilized in a home of their own, rather than living long term in emergency shelters, follow-up support services are more effective, proponents say.

"We don't want people languishing on our streets and in our shelters," Irene Agustin, who oversees the city's Homeless Services department. "That's crisis, and when you're in crisis, it's hard to get your life back in order."

Ideally, the housing-first approach should free up space in emergency shelters, such as Biddle, as people move quickly into permanent homes or skip the shelters completely. But it is still a work in progress in St. Louis. During the most recent brutal winter, Biddle quickly filled to capacity, even when adding another 85 emergency beds on the coldest nights. To handle the overflow, a number of churches opened volunteer shelters for the first time.

Agustin says they learned a lot from last winter and are meeting this summer with partners to prepare for the cold when it hits this year.

We welcome tips and feedback. Email the author at or follow on Twitter at @DoyleMurphy.

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