May 14, 2020
ArchCity Defenders dismissed the lawsuit filed on behalf of Renata Frank to prevent the City of St. Louis from criminalizing unhoused individuals for seeking shelter in encampments near Market Street during the COVID-19 pandemic. Ms. Frank has chosen to dismiss her claims against the City, given the removal of the encampments at issue, and her current status in temporary housing. ArchCity is working with her to ensure that she finds permanent housing.
Although Ms. Frank has temporary shelter today, many people who were living with her at the Market Street encampments do not. As a result of the City of St. Louis’ actions to clear those encampments, many unhoused individuals dispersed throughout the city. Others were only able to access congregate shelter space, locations that do not provide individuals the same opportunity to socially distance and care for their personal health as individual housing units. Even those who were temporarily placed in a motel still face challenges as they are not being provided adequate food and services and have no idea what will happen to them when their temporary stay in a hotel terminates.
ArchCity remains concerned about a number of issues that surfaced during the course of this litigation, including numerous misrepresentations made by the City of St. Louis. Chiefly, through its lawyers, the City claimed that individual hotel rooms would be made immediately available to every displaced person who wanted one. Within two days the City broke its word, clearing the Market Street encampments before individual rooms could be provided to all people who lived there. Instead of allowing people to remain until individual rooms could be acquired, the City rushed to take down people’s tents, their only form of shelter, and only allowed individuals to remain in the park on the condition that they did not put up a new tent.
The City also claimed that it would conduct COVID-19 testing to every person displaced from the encampments, yet only a small fraction of the people living at Market Street received a test before the encampment was disbanded. The City’s Health Director, Dr. Echols, who issued the order to clear the encampments, also testified under oath that he is a licensed physician, when he is not. Although ArchCity does not intend to question Dr. Echols’ professional qualification in this matter, Dr. Echols’ misrepresentation, in conjunction with other false promises by City employees, raises serious concerns about the willingness of City officials to make false statements for political expediency.
“The rush to close the Market Street encampments before adequate shelter, services, and medical outreach could be arranged demonstrates how the encampment closures were never about public health or safety,” said John Bonacorsi, Skadden Fellow and Staff Attorney with ArchCity Defenders. “Rather, the City’s conduct shows that it will invest significant resources to remove unhoused individuals from the public eye, but refuse to make the same investment to provide shelter and services to meet the needs of St. Louis’ unhoused community.”
ArchCity Defenders will continue to work with and for St. Louis’ unhoused community to ensure that their rights are protected, and that the City of St. Louis invests adequate resources and protections to prevent homelesness.
Z Gorley, Communications Director, ArchCity Defenders