Group helps homeless Normandy students

ST. LOUIS COUNTY - When you think of St. Louis' homeless population, you don't immediately think of homeless teenagers.

A local non-profit is trying to meet the needs of young people with nowhere else to go. Epworth Children and Family Services is 150-years-old, once assisting Civil War orphans.

Full disclosure: Art Holliday's wife is a board member. Epworth's new homeless drop-in center is in Normandy, where it's estimated that 30 percent of the students are homeless.

Before getting help at the Epworth Drop-in Center, Cedric Thomas was a homeless 19-year-old, in search of food and a place to sleep.

"Back of a truck or anywhere that it was warm. Or I would go to a shelter nearby and if it was full I just had to sleep on a bench," he said. "It was tough times. I cried sometimes. I prayed."

Epworth outgrew its previous homeless drop-in location in University City. Its new location in Normandy opened in May, serving 30 to 40 young people daily who are homeless.

"Do they need to wash their clothes, do they need to take a shower, do they need to get new clothes, do they need to use the computer, do they need help with medical testing. Anything that might be the pressing immediate need that they have that day," said Shannon Grass.

The drop-in center is located in the 63121 zip code, which has one of the highest levels of youth poverty in the St. Louis region.

"This is a very serious issue affecting many of our youth in the community, and it's our obligation to reach out and help these youth in need," said Kristen Jones.

After spending much of her life in foster care and finding herself homeless, Demeris French now has a job and an apartment thanks to Epworth.

"It's hard without having somebody there for you. Especially grown people. Epworth has become my family," she said.

No longer homeless, Cedric Thomas became employed five months ago and hopes to have his own apartment soon.

If you'd like to learn more about the Epworth Drop-In Center, 7520 Natural Bridge, there will be an open house September 12.


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