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Community Release Center

St. Louis Community Release Center (Release Center) at 1621 North First Street, St. Louis, MO 63102 in the Near North Riverfront neighborhood, operated by the Missouri Department of Corrections, is a facility that releases up to 450 people who are serving the remainder of their sentences on parole without a home plan into the surrounding community on a daily basis with little to no supervision. This facility is within walking distance to the neighborhoods of Downtown, Downtown West, Columbus Square, Carr Square, St. Louis Place and Old North. The Release Center is the source of many serious problems, and it degrades the livability and economic vitality of the surrounding area.

Out of the 115 counties in the State of Missouri, the Department of Corrections operates only one facility to handle 100% of the state’s individuals who were recently released from the State of Missouri’s penitentiary system and do not have a housing plan. This system disregards the origins of the people being released. For example, although a former inmate may have been raised and have family ties or other connections in Springfield, MO they are placed in the facility near Downtown St. Louis instead of near their natural support system.

The Release Center operates with a stated mission of creating opportunities for individuals staying at the facility to be self-sufficient and accountable. Furthermore, the ultimate goal of this center is to encourage reintegration with society upon release from the center. To that end, the Release Center has failed to live up to its mission. The Department of Corrections 2016 Budget Request states that 40% of individuals sent to this Release Center will successfully complete this program amongst whom there is a 25% recidivism rate. The remaining 60% of individuals who fail to complete the program have an 80% recidivism rate[1]. That equates to a total blended recidivism rate of individuals sent to the Release Center of 58% of all inmates sent to this facility. This number is particularly startling when compared to the overall Missouri Department Corrections recidivism rate of 45.5%[2].

We have sat down with people staying at the Release Center, and they report horrendous conditions. The two men we spoke with stated a complete lack of resources for people seeking assistance with job training and placement, substance use disorder and mental health treatment, and housing needs. They also reported rampant drug use and trafficking inside the facility and among the people staying there in the surrounding community.

In light of the evidence, our hope is that Governor Greitens reviews these serious problems and takes immediate action to completely reform the operations of the Release Center for the safety and well-being of the people staying in that facility and the surrounding communities that are negatively impacted by its current practices.

 

Note:   We recently signed onto a letter to Governor Greitens alongside other Downtown stakeholders organized by Downtown STL, Inc. You can view that letter here.

 

[1] 2016 Department of Correction Budget Request, Book 3 pgs. 103 – 111

[2] 2015 Missouri Reentry Process Report to the Governor pg. 1

DNA’s Stance on NLEC

NLEC is a Detriment to Everyone

Nearly 1 year ago the St. Louis Downtown Neighborhood Association (DNA) joined the City of St. Louis Continuum of Care (CoC). This is a coalition of service providers that administer evidence-based, humane services to people who are experiencing homelessness. This coalition is open to anyone interested in assisting with solutions to end people’s homelessness, and our organization has already been able to lend our expertise in community outreach and other topics with this group to further that goal. The service-delivery model used by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), a major funder of homeless service providers, is called Housing First. This model has been adopted by our CoC because it has been shown to drastically reduce the time people spend in a shelter and the amount of people stuck living on the streets by quickly assessing someone’s needs and placing them in a facility that will best address their needs. Some people may need permanent supportive housing with wraparound services for a mental health issue. Some people may need in-patient substance use disorder treatment paired with housing once treatment has completed. Others may simply need an apartment where they can stabilize and get back on their feet. When this model has been adopted by CoCs and properly funded through government and private sources in other cities, people suffering from homelessness and the community at large benefit greatly. Put simply, it works.

When we visited facilities operated by agencies involved in our CoC, we witnessed a clean and safe environment for all of the people being served. Furthermore, we have not been informed of any reports from people receiving services from CoC entities about any health or safety problems occurring inside those facilities. There might be some hiccups at CoC organizations from time to time (as any organization is bound to have), but we are unaware of any systemic issues causing health and safety hazards. CoC agencies use evidence-based programming to end people’s homelessness, which is the overarching goal of the CoC. They do not implement strategies that amount to a Band Aid on a bullet wound. They strive to ensure anyone who is seeking assistance with housing finds it.

Downtown residents and organizations have for years attempted to work with New Life Evangelistic Center (NLEC) to convince them to join the CoC. The neighborhood has also attempted to have NLEC adopt evidence-based practices and attempted to show NLEC their practices place people in danger both inside and outside of their facility. None of these conversations has made a difference in abating what has occurred in and around NLEC for years. We have received firsthand reports and reviewed the public testimony of the City of St. Louis Board of Public Service and Board of Building Appeals hearings from people who live nearby and have stayed in NLEC’s facility at 1411 Locust St., 63103. They speak of conditions that include:  lack of services to end people’s homelessness, mold, bed bugs, drug use, assaults, and other unsafe conditions and illegal behaviors both inside and outside of the facility. The reports of these detrimental behaviors are corroborated by the large amount of 911 calls for service in and around that facility. Moreover, NLEC has refused to join the CoC and put in place evidence-based programs that will abate these problems. We know this is not the standard for CoC organizations, and it is our belief NLEC’s off the grid practices are a major factor in why these conditions persist inside and outside of their facility.

Given everything that has occurred, DNA firmly believes NLEC to be a detriment to both the people seeking services to end their homelessness and the surrounding community. Furthermore, stating we believe NLEC to be a detriment to the people in their facility and the surrounding neighborhood does not equate to stating we are against homeless service providers and the people they serve. That false equivalency is akin to stating a neighborhood group that presents evidence and goes through a public process that leads to a bar or convenience store that sells liquor being deemed to be a detriment to the neighborhood means that neighborhood group is against all places that sell liquor and the people who buy it. That argument does not hold water, and neither does the one against the people who have shown NLEC to be a detriment through the process laid out by the City of St. Louis. Making that leap in logic is simply untrue and devoid of the facts.

Our hope is our community will no longer need to bear the brunt of an establishment that flaunts evidence-based practices, creates an environment that is harmful to people in need, and is an overwhelming detriment and safety risk to the neighborhood.

What Now?

A valid question many people ask is, “Where will people currently using NLEC’s overnight facilities stay if NLEC closes?” The neighborhood and others have been assured by the City of St. Louis’ Director of Human Services the people staying at NLEC will be offered a place to go if NLEC is eventually forced to close its doors due to any legal decisions against it. Biddle Housing Opportunity Center (a facility owned by the City of St. Louis and managed by St. Patrick’s Center and Peter and Paul Community Services) has the capability to expand in special circumstances such as this. On a broader scale, CoC agencies were recently awarded a $1 million grant from HUD to assist with rapidly rehousing up to 150 men, women, and children in need. This is the largest grant of this kind our city has ever received, and a renewal application has already been filed for next year. These efforts will make a measurable difference to end homelessness in our city versus NLEC’s activities, which have been shown to be a detriment to people in need and the surrounding community.

DNA will continue to support the efforts of reputable service providers in the Continuum of Care to achieve their goal of providing timely, safe, and effective services to people without homes in the City of St. Louis, and we encourage others to do the same. This is the best way to ensure your donation and volunteerism is being used to end homelessness and is a hand up, not merely a hand out.

DNA Receives Funding

The DNA Board of Directors are excited to announce that DNA has received funding from Downtown STL Inc., U.S. Bancorp Community Development Corporation, and Stifel Nicolaus to hire a part-time Executive Director to undertake the day-to-day operations of the neighborhood association and dedicate more time to building and organizing our neighborhood. The Executive Director will report to, be overseen, and guided by our elected DNA Board of Directors.

The previous and current DNA Board of Directors have been working towards this since last year, and we couldn’t be more pleased for it to come to fruition. This is a huge step towards making the work we have undertaken sustainable for many years to come.

The DNA Board of Directors is also pleased to announce that Jared Opsal is stepping down as Chairman of the board, to become our new Executive Director. Jared’s background in non-profit leadership, grant writing, and communications, along with his personal experience with DNA and living downtown for 4 years, make him an excellent candidate for this newly created position. Jared is excited to take DNA to the next level, representing our residents’ and neighborhood’s needs throughout the entire region.

We Made Changes

You might notice some new changes to our website.

For starters we have officially changed our URL to www.saintlouisdna.org to reflect our status as a non-profit neighborhood association.  We also improved the website for tablet and mobile users.

As we grow the DNA organization we’re listening to your feedback–keep it coming!

Making a Robust Neighborhood!

This month’s happy hour is at Robust Wine Bar Downtown at The MX on Thursday, October 9 from 5-7pm.  This is a great chance to meet your downtown neighbors, and we hope to see you all there!

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