St. James AME Sees A Homeless Demographic - Men Over The Age Of 50 - And Opens Permanent Housing

Aug 8, 2019

Two young volunteers help St. Francis Foundation vice president, Jimmy Wilferth, hang a sign in front of the new house.
Credit Lindsey Grojean/KRCU

St. James AME Church in Cape Girardeau is well known to locals for providing numerous services to the community’s homeless population - shelter in the winter, cooling facilities in the summer, and even managing sack lunch donations across the city. Their new endeavor is providing housing for an unexpected demographic: men over the age of 50. 

A new, 4-person house located on Jefferson Ave. isn’t just transitional, but permanent housing for men who have experienced long-term, chronic homeslessness. This population, pastor Renita Green says, is the most vulnerable. 

“This is not the demographic that people usually let come crash on their couch,” says Green. “And their health conditions are declining; street life is very difficult and hard on the body. A lot of their medical conditions are untreated and worsened by diet, overexertion, heat, and addiction.”

The St. Francis Foundation agreed to sponsor the house and many of the improvements made to make it livable, while the church will provide operations. Green says both organizations saw the project as a great opportunity to come closer to reaching their shared goal of ending homelessness “for as many people as possible.” And, it’s the first time St. James has partnered with a group with as much influence and access to resources as St. Francis has.

“It’s a significant partnership,” says Green. “We’re excited about all the possibilities and the doors this could open for the people we’re serving.”

Green says this should be the first of many similar projects St. James wants to tackle in the near future. They’ve already acquired a second house, but it needs a partner and “a lot of work.” 

“We’ll need some help with electrical, plumbing, and HVAC work - that sort of thing,” says Green. 

She’s hoping to enhance the shared spaces of each house to keep residents out of the back alleys and liquor store parking lots “where they’re currently hanging out.” One idea was to turn their front yards into memorial gardens for the homeless men who have passed away.

“We lost one of our guys last Saturday night outdoors, and a second man who was on hospice for a month,” says Green.

The church also hopes to open a women’s shelter similar to their permanent housing for men, but, Green says, “one thing at a time.”