May 1, 2020
ArchCity Defenders Files Emergency Lawsuit to Stop St. Louis City from Displacing People from Tent Encampments Outside of City Hall
This morning, in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri, ArchCity Defenders filed a lawsuit and applied for a temporary restraining order (TRO) to stop the displacement of approximately 50 people from tent encampments along Market Street in downtown St. Louis, located directly across the street from City Hall. The suit, filed against the City of St. Louis, on behalf of Ranata Frank and similarly unhoused individuals, documents how Ms. Frank has been living at one of the encampments, trying to access shelter and housing, but has met roadblocks at every turn. On the afternoon of April 29, the City of St. Louis zip-tied “Notice to Vacate” orders on tents up and down Market Street telling people that they must leave the encampments by 10 a.m. on Friday, May 1. Parties are awaiting notice from the court for when the TRO will be heard.
“For weeks, the City of St. Louis has stated that they have enough shelter for the people who want it. This is patently false,” said John Bonacorsi, a Staff Attorney and Skadden Fellow at ArchCity Defenders. “As unhoused individuals, outreach workers, and service providers know firsthand, there is a severe shortage of adequate shelter space for our local unhoused community, which means that there are hundreds of people who are forced to risk punishment and sleep outside.”
The following legal documents filed with the court are linked below:
Application for Temporary Restraining Order
Memo in Support of the TRO
Complaint Frank v. City of St. Louis
Exhibit A- Dr. Timothy Huffman
The lead plaintiff, Ms Frank, signed up for space in a hotel three weeks ago and is still waiting for a bed. She asks for an update on the bed status when City officials are present at the camps and is frequently told someone will be in touch with her. Thursday night, she still waited for her bed, uncertain what tomorrow would bring.
The City’s issuance of these orders to vacate goes against guidelines from the Center for Disease Control (CDC), which were adopted in a memo released on March 25, 2020 by St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department Chief John Hayden, stating, “All: According to CDC recommendations, Officers should refrain from clearing encampments during the spread of COVID-19. Clearing encampments can cause people to disperse throughout the community and break connections with service providers.” This recent mandate represents the City’s consistently punitive approach to addressing the concerns and needs of the unhoused.
On April 8, the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department (SLMPD) dispatched police to the tent encampment across from City Hall, telling people they needed to move without providing necessary supports or housing alternatives. At 4 a.m. on April 9, employees of the SLMPD and St. Louis City’s Department of Parks, Recreation, and Forestry arrived with trucks, pitchforks, and shovels to remove the items in the park and threatened to displace people living at the encampment.
“The continued harassment and displacement of unhoused persons in the City of St. Louis is unconscionable,” said Blake Strode, Executive Director of ArchCity Defenders. “We believe the City’s actions violate the fundamental rights of those currently living in the encampments and make their lives harder at a time that they are already struggling to support themselves and each other through this crisis.”
Contrary to City-issued statements, people living in the encampments, outreach workers, and research done by St. Louis Area Regional Commission on Homelessness (SLARCH) disputes the City’s claim that there are enough shelter beds, motel rooms, and temporary housing for people to move in to. (See Exhibit A for SLARCH data). On April 30, a representative of the City’s Homeless Services Division reported to Continuum of Care service providers that there was a 96-person waiting list for beds.
Since the rise of COVID-19, ArchCity Defenders has advocated for the rights and protections of people who are at great risk of contracting the virus, particularly the unhoused. From participating in the Continuum of Care, to providing support to Tent Mission STL, and sending official correspondence to Mayor Lyda Krewson and the Joint Boards of Health and Hospitals, City of St. Louis Department of Health, ACD has consistently urged the City of St. Louis to provide enough shelter beds, designate quarantine/isolation space, and make available basic resources such as testing, and handwashing stations.
This is the second time ArchCity Defenders has filed an application for a TRO and lawsuit against the City of St. Louis on behalf of people who are unhoused. In April 2017, ACD and SLU Law Legal Clinics tried to halt the City from warehousing homeless men in the Forestry Department’s Weed Control building on Tucker Avenue, citing uninhabitable and inadequate shelter conditions.
For more on the policy and advocacy efforts led by ArchCity Defenders since the Coronavirus outbreak, visit www.stlcovidhub.org, a website done in partnership with Action St. Louis and the St. Louis American.