The rise of suburban homelessness

For the Guardian, I profiled a woman who went from living in a suburban house and making $60,000 per year to living in a homeless shelter in downtown St. Louis. Suburban poverty and homelessness are both on the rise — and homeless shelters are under attack:

Reverend Larry Rice, who has run the shelter since it opened in 1972, sees a two-fold problem. St Louis County’s refusal to build a shelter has brought the suburban homeless to his door, as New Life is the only walk-in shelter in the region. At the same time, wealthy suburbanites have begun moving to his neighborhood, and they are determined to put New Life out of business. Tactics used to hurt New Life include banning porta-potties, thus making a homeless person more likely to be arrested for public urination, and requiring Rice to build a barrier around the building.

“The irony is that the homeless were here first,” Rice says. “People from the suburbs have started coming into the city to buy cheap property. But they want the homeless out of sight and out of mind. Don’t forget ‘gentrification’ is rooted in the word ‘gentry’. St Louis’s gentry, rich suburbanites, move their problems to our backyard and then they want to destroy our yard because they don’t like the people living in it. They’re hateful, vindictive, and vicious. They’re all white people, and they like to think of themselves as white progressives. But all problems have to be in someone else’s backyard. It’s a very racist issue.”

Rice, who says about 50% of New Life residents come from the suburbs, is fighting closure through demonstrations and the courts, which he claims are violating a Missouri law that says every county is obligated to provide a shelter. He says responsibility for the homeless has fallen to the police, who are unequipped to handle the rapid rise in suburban poverty.

Read the full article, Suburbanites are becoming the new face of homelessness in America, at the Guardian.

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