ST. CHARLES — Mayor Dan Borgmeyer, who was first elected in 2019 after a long career in marketing and advertising, has a new pitch these days.
He wants to raise up to $7 million to buy a vacant building to provide shelter, meals, job training and health services to homeless men and women in his town and the rest of St. Charles.
Borgmeyer, who in 2020 encouraged the formation of a task force with countywide representation to address homelessness, hopes to secure private donations and possibly state and federal grants to help fund the plan.
And recently, in his town’s monthly newsletter to residents, he floated another idea for finding some of the money.
He asked readers to tell him via an online link or by phone if they would accept “a small tax or bond issue for, say, 5 years to buy the facility”. Private donations would fund day-to-day operations, he said.
The center is reportedly modeled after an Atlanta facility called City of Refuge, which for decades offered a wide range of services to homeless families and individuals.
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Borgmeyer said he and members of the county task force met with representatives from the Atlanta facility several times to explore the idea.
“It’s more useful than putting them in a hotel room so they don’t freeze to death,” he said. “You have to control the environment and you have to control the people” to get them the services they need. The goal, he said, is to prepare them to reintegrate into society.
How to deal with homelessness has been a major issue for decades in the region’s urban core, where St. Louis city officials and private agencies have worked to funnel people into various programs and keep them warm in winter.
Additionally, controversies over how to handle impromptu outdoor camps of homeless people who will not go to traditional shelters have periodically arisen in the city.
Although less visible in the booming suburbs of St. Charles County, homelessness is also a persistent problem there.
Todd Barnes, executive director of the St. Charles County Community Council, said an annual homeless count in January showed “just under 500” countywide.
He said that was 16% lower than five years ago, but slightly higher than in 2021.
“We will meet people who are actually homeless on the streets, but also in hotels and hospitals,” said Barnes, who also leads the Borgmeyer task force organized on the issue.
Borgmeyer is considering a vacant 100,000 square foot building in an industrial area north of his city for the proposed facility. He said it would be “well removed from any residential impact” and there would be space nearby to expand in the future.
Barnes said other smaller locations are also being considered. “I don’t think anything is totally dead or updated right now,” he said.
He said he hopes the task force, which includes representatives from health care systems and homeless service providers, will decide on a specific location and proposal within the next two months.
Now the county’s only shelter is the one run by the Salvation Army in O’Fallon, but it doesn’t accept single men.
“It’s such a shame that in a county of over 400,000 people … there’s no place for men to go” if they’re not part of a family unit, Barnes said.
He said that was also true in neighboring Lincoln and Warren counties, which Borgmeyer’s envisioned center would also serve.
Barnes and Borgmeyer said City of Refuge officials also recently spoke with people involved in helping the homeless in St. Louis and St. Louis County about creating a regional center, with the establishment of Saint-Charles working in tandem with him.
City of Refuge officials could not be reached for comment. Tim Huffman, who co-chairs a regional commission on homelessness and has worked with St. Louis homeless shelters, said he and a senior city official attended that meeting, but said that she was “very exploratory at this point”.
Meanwhile, another St. Charles County organization — the nonprofit Faith Haven House — hopes to open a much smaller facility for homeless men in October.
Dareth Jeffers, the founder and president, said the organization secured a $200,000 grant from the Veterans United Foundation to purchase the building, a former bakery, at 7338 Mexico Road in St. Peters.
She said it would have living space for six men but would also provide services such as counseling and job training. She said the facility will provide “transitional accommodation” until permanent living space is found.
She said the organization does not use the term “homeless shelter” to describe the facility. “A shelter is first come, first served on a daily basis,” she said.
The necessary rezoning for the facility was unanimously approved in January by the aldermen of St. Peters. Jeffers said city permits for some rehab work are still required.
Borgmeyer, the mayor of St. Charles, said he sees Faith Haven House as “an addition to the large facility” he hopes to put in place.
As for that temporary resort tax idea he pitched in the newsletter, Borgmeyer said in an interview that it could mean a sales tax increase of a quarter of a cent. But he said he wasn’t advocating one now and “just wanted a pulse”.
On Thursday, he said, about 58% of more than 1,200 respondents were opposed and 42% in favor.
Despite the negative response so far, Borgmeyer said, “I think it’s promising.” He pointed out that there was no kind of public campaign to explain what the center would do.