DIGNITY HARBOR, MO–(KMOX)–Two bobcats and a bulldozer with a claw grabber demolished a row of plywood shacks, where some ten homeless have been evacuated — the first of three riverfront encampments ordered shut down by the city.
The heavy equipment moved in around 12:30 with the city’s Director of Human Services Bill Siedhoff looking on. As plywood walls crunched, and blue tarps ripped, the abandoned personal belongings of the homeless fell from the claw in the sunlight — sleeping quilts, chairs, coolers, pots and pans, empty water bottles and beer cans.
One shack reeked of spoiled meat, visible on a shelf buzzing with flies.
Word in the homeless community is that some of the members of Dignity Harbor have been moved to the Days Inn motel at 270 and Hanley in St. Louis County. A clerk who answered the phone said the motel charges $50.25 a night.
The city’s Director of Human Services Bill Siedhoff couldn’t confirm the location, but says motels are being used on a “temporary basis.” The goal is to locate the riverfront homeless in scattered apartments — paid for by taxpayers through federal grant money.
Siedhoff has set a goal — posted on signs along the riverfront — to clear out the remaining two encampments by May 18.Voicing opposition to the city’s plans, the Reverend Larry Rice was spotted on the riverfront the day before the demolition, inviting homeless to live in a new tent community he’s planning at a secret location.
“I’ve been in touch with a property owner in the city of St. Louis,” Rice said, “I have a legal lease drawn up on two acres of ground.” Rice argues that putting the homeless up in motels and apartments is a “wasteful” use of tax dollars, and could leave the homeless back on the streets if the federal funding is cut off.
Siedhoff says Rice’s latest plan won’t work.
“Why would he want to replicate a rat-infested hell hole?” Siedhoff said, “Good luck. The guy’s got a warped way of looking at the world.”
Rice says the secret location is off a major interstate where some 200,000 motorists pass every day and would see the homeless in their midst. What if the city tries to shut it down, as it did the Occupy tents?
“We’re in consultation with attorneys,” Rice said, “The difference between what Occupy did and what we’re doing is this is private land. If the cops come in and invade these people’s homes on private ground, they’ll violate every Constitutional provision there is and we’ll end up in the Supreme Court.”
Property owner Mark Schulte, who owns a building overlooking the riverfront homeless camps, got into a debate with Rice as they crossed paths in Dignity Harbor.
“In my judgement the (Slay) administration is doing the best they can in a very difficult situation,” Schulte said, “I believe everybody in this means well.”
Schulte challenged the community to drop off furniture and household supplies to Catholic Charities to help the riverfront homeless make their transition.
Another visitor to the encampment, former resident Amy Sandifer says the city moved her to an apartment and she’s holding down a job at a restaurant. Sandifer predicts it will be a shock to the homeless how nice it can be to get off the streets.
“Some people are just going to be shell-shocked,” she said, “They’re going to love it, but they’re going to be lost. They’re taking them and putting them in the county, which is good. But they don’t know how to get anywhere from there. Everything they know is down here.”