During a meeting that focused on the how to help the unhoused at St. Louis City Hall, Teka Childress got a text informing her that a homeless person, who she loved and knew for years, passed away.
I’m Teca Childress. I am grateful to Alderwoman President Green, to Alderwoman Sonnier, and to Alderman Rasheen Aldridge for their support of this effort. This matters a lot. So, to tell you who I am, I’m 65 now and I started at age 20. I ran a homeless shelter for 35 years called Karen House. Twenty of those years I lived and worked there in the house, so it wasn’t only in my backyard, it was in my home and it was the best years of my life.
Then, after that, I began, or during that time I began working for BJC Behavioral Health as an outreach worker to people who live outside and people in shelters. Now I work for Gateway Housing First. So the reason I tell you that, it’s not all that exciting, my life’s not that exciting, but I have worked in all these different areas.
The other effort I’m part of right now is I’m part of a group that’s working to devise strategies to end homelessness in our region. So a lot of the work that people are asking for is being done, this group called Eyes on the Prize, and this policy, we have a policy group, housing group, service group, and funding group that are looking at how, what we need to do in each of these areas in our region to really address this issue. We have some of the organizations who are part of it, and we’ve been talking about this very bill as part of that overall strategy to end homelessness. So this is not an isolation, this is part of the whole plan.
The solution to homelessness is housing, but I am here to tell you, as someone who has spent her life trying to house people, it is not that fast. It is our solution, it’s what we need to do, we need more permanent support of housing, but we cannot leave people who are waiting for housing to be outside. Our housing population, unsheltered population, has been growing over the last several years. In fact, chronic homelessness doubled between 2018 and 2022.
I want to take the rest of my time today to really talk to the things that people raised, because I think after hearing everyone. So I think what I’ll do is just focus on a few things people said.
There’s a lot of comprehensive strategies, absolutely what is needed, but people are working all over doing that right now. In terms of a consultant, we have a consultant in St. Louis City, Mandy Chapman Semple, who worked in Houston and Dallas, and greatly reduced homelessness there is here in town working with the COC and the Housing Everyone STL to work on a comprehensive plan. This is being done in St. Louis right now.
So regarding seeking housing, I spent 45 years with people living outside and living in shelter, and I will tell you that almost everyone wants housing. It is rare in my life to have found somebody who when I really found a path for them that they could believe would work, that they believe I’d stay with them, they wanted housing.
There was a man down who lived on the riverfront who was famous for being out there for years, and when I housed his partner, he came in as happily as he could have ever come in. So I believe that is a myth.
We need to make an absolute distinction between panhandling and assault. Those need to be absolutely distinct from one another. People have a right to panhandle, they do not have a right to assault, and we need to keep those really clear, and that’s why this bill is important.
I’ll end really with this. We have left people out there way too long, it’s getting worse, we cannot wait any longer. While I was sitting here, I got a text that a person that I’ve loved for a long time and been trying to help who’s living outside passed away. We cannot wait any longer, people are dying, and we cannot leave them outside any longer, and I appreciate everything you’re doing. Thank you.