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St. Louis orders homeless people to leave downtown tent camps

Advocates for the homeless said the tents were provided to protect them and provide a measure of social distancing they wouldn't have otherwise

ST. LOUIS — The City of St. Louis has ordered all people living in two tent encampments along Market Street to leave by Friday morning.

Mayor Lyda Krewson said the camps are illegal and create a dangerous risk of the spread of coronavirus.

"This is a pretty serious health threat to have these individuals mixing it up, not practicing social distancing, living in this group situation,” she said.

Krewson said the city has been working to create more shelter space at four locations for the people living at the camps. People who need a bed can call 211.

"We do have beds available for everyone who's in these encampments,” she said.

RELATED: City of St. Louis issues order to vacate downtown tent encampments

The city, along with Affinia and BJC, will be providing health screenings at the camps before people are forced to leave, Krewson said.

"From my observation, it's been going fairly well at these camps,” said Rev. Ray Redlich, vice president at New Life Evangelistic Center.

Redlich has been working with the homeless for 40 years. He visits people at the encampments several times a week and said the tents provide a measure of social distancing they wouldn't have otherwise. Outreach workers provided the tents, he said.

"The homeless were already gathering in these parks. The tents were put up to protect them,” he said.

He likens kicking people out to lifting the stay-at-home order for everyone else.

"It's just as bad as saying, ‘OK, well, just open everything up and let everybody go back to life as normal.’ Eventually yes, but you have to give it time,” he said. “What is better? Is it better to have the tent encampment – is the overall result going to be better to have that or to disband that and force these people to scatter all over the place?”

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