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St. Louis City officials under fire for fencing off a spot where the homeless sleep

ST. LOUIS - St. Louis City Officials came under fire on social media for fencing off a spot where homeless people sleep in Downtown St. Louis. It’s right behind the St. Louis Justice Center, which includes the city jail, where warm air from the building rises through grates in the sidewalks.

On cold nights it’s a nice warm spot for homeless people to get some sleep, not anymore.

The two homeless people most recently known to be sleeping on the grates were offered emergency shelter but refused, said St. Louis Director of Human Services, Irene Augustin.

Several homeless people told Fox2/News 11 Wednesday they understood the need for the fencing.

It had become a public health issue, said St. Louis Director of Public Safety, Jimmie Edwards.

“Not only are people using those grates to sleep on, they’re also using them as bathrooms, because of that it creates a health problem,” Edwards said.  “Anytime you have an area where there’s garbage or trash or human waste, it’s going to be problematic.  I think we would be negligent or careless if we did not address it.”

“They pour liquor down there, they pour feces down there,” said Lawanda Smith, a 23-year Justice Center worker.  “They go (to the bathroom) right there that way they don’t have to move.  So yeah, it’s a hazard, with paper blowing all over.  People have to walk and get to work, so yeah – it’s a hazard.”

The latest homeless population estimate for St. Louis dropped below 1,300 people, down from the previous year.

City officials have changed their focus from simply offering emergency shelter to partnering with social service agencies to more quickly transition the homeless into permanent housing.

Sidewalks grates offer neither though the fences were put off until the weather warmed up.

“I recognize the fact it was a source of warmth and heat.  In our cold winter, I did not want to take that away but we cannot allow it to continue,” Edwards said.

For the next five months or so, the issue more than likely will be finding a cool spot, rather than a warm one.  In either case, there are shelters in St. Louis that do a much better job of providing that than a sidewalk grate.