Hours after the bars close, and while most residents are still sleeping, a team of six gather their supplies and sets off to tidy the streets of Soulard. They’re the Soulard Clean Team, a group of men from Peter and Paul Community Services’ Homeless Shelter. Three times per week they wake up early and, led by their coordinator Andre Cole, pick up bags of litter and trash, consistently improving the look and cleanliness of their historic neighborhood, all before 7:30am. 

Members of the Soulard Clean Team pose in front of Sts Peter and Paul Catholic Church

Members of the Soulard Clean Team pose in front of Sts Peter and Paul Catholic Church

While the men of Peter and Paul do the literal heavy lifting, there’s a much larger group behind the Soulard Clean Team. Inspired by a similar program enacted in the early 80s, Soulard Business Association (SBA) – comprised of 65 members, including 42 bars and restaurants – provided trial funding for the Clean Team last fall. After positive feedback from businesses, residents and Peter and Paul Community Services coordinators, SBA recruited the Soulard Restoration Group (SRG) neighborhood association, as well as Historic Trinity Lutheran Church in Soulard, to also join the cause – doubling the program’s budget for 2019.

“The success of this program is two-fold,” said Tom Gullickson, SBA president and owner of 1860 Saloon, Game Room, & Hardshell Café. “Our businesses get help picking up after their patrons, and clean streets keep residents happy, as well as out-of-neighborhood visitors coming in. Soulard is cleaner. You can visually see the difference. However, just as important are the positive stories we’re hearing from Andre and the Peter and Paul Community Services team – about the impact this program is making for the men at their shelter.” 

Peter and Paul Community Services Homeless Shelter – located at 711 Allen Avenue - is open 365 days a year and home to about 60 men (a small percentage of St Louis’ estimated 1,700 homeless, only half of which are in shelters). In 2018, the organization provided beds, food, showers, laundry and staff support to more than 250 men (experiencing, on average, 110 days of homelessness for a variety of reasons including substance abuse, loss of employment and family issues).

The Soulard Clean Team program provides those served by Peter and Paul both meaningful work and reward. Three mornings per week, a rotating group of five shelter residents are invited to participate, and each is paid $20 for approximately two hours of cleaning. The crew uses an ATV – provided by Molly’s in Soulard – to travel the neighborhood.

”Before SBA and this program, I had guys in the shelter who hadn’t seen $20 all summer,” said Andre Cole, Soulard Clean Team coordinator for Peter and Paul Community Services. “It may not seem like much, but doing this work provides a sense of purpose at their lowest point. They feel like viable members of the community. The men can buy essentials, or go to Bread Co and purchase a coffee just like everyone else. Many previous members of the Soulard Clean Team have full time jobs. Especially for new guys, a paid morning of respectable work is an important stepping stone on that path toward re-engagement and empowerment.”

Success of the Soulard Clean Team has spurred the creation of a neighborhood working group – comprised of Peter and Paul Community Services, SBA, SRG, and Trinity Lutheran representatives – to, ongoing, examine the impact of the existing program, as well as coordinate on additional homelessness and community outreach efforts.

“Our neighbors are our neighbors whether they have houses or not,” said Josh Hatcher, one of the pastors at Historic Trinity Lutheran Church, whose ‘Soup Alley’ or ‘Window Ministry’ provides hot meals to 60 additional people per day – just down the street from Peter and Paul.  “There is a lot of need in St Louis and here in our Soulard community. Working together and talking openly about the issues, with each other as well as those in need of our service, is the first step in finding and creating effective programs like this.”

For more information on Soulard Clean Team, contact Bree Ehler at behler@ppcsinc.org. To learn more about Peter and Paul Community Services, visit www.ppcsinc.org