The battle between the city of St. Louis and New Life Evangelistic Center head Rev. Larry Rice wages on.
The latest clash began last night as the city enacts "special enforcement" on a section of Locust Street west of 14th Street, right outside the NLEC. The sidewalk is often lined in the wee hours of the night with homeless people who've sought services at the center, but don't want to sleep inside.
The city says sleeping outside is dangerous and unsanitary. Rice says it's the homeless' right.
"This is what the law used to do in the '50s," he says. "They're going to come along and try to squeeze us out."
Things have been pretty ugly ever since Rice tried to put up a tent city for the homeless called Integrity Village and the city tore it down. Rice was arrested at the removal. He's been threatening to sue, arguing he got the proper permits for the vacant land.
Now, the city has turned its sights to NLEC, Rice's hub shelter in downtown St. Louis.
About 200 to 250 people sleep at the shelter each night, while dozens wait outside on the sidewalks.
The city laid out its case in a press release sent out yesterday afternoon:
Nearby residents have complained of unsanitary conditions with people defecating and urinating on the street and sidewalks, have worried about very young children spending the night outside, and have reported excessive drinking and drug use resulting in fights, excessive noise, and other altercations. There has been a spike in calls for police service in that area.
"The individuals in this area seem to prefer to be outside of the New Life Evangelistic Center (NLEC) instead of entering the facility," said Human Services Director Bill Siedhoff. "I have been told by NLEC staff that they have sufficient space to accommodate all the individuals who gather outside their facility. It appears that some people who are homeless choose to remain on the street due to concerns about the condition inside the NLEC."
Workers from the Department of Human Services and the Department of Health, and the Salvation Army will be brought in to provide meals, service referrals, and shelter. Homeless children will be referred to Crisis Nursery.
However, the entire street will be shut down for a thorough cleaning, preventing anyone from sleeping around the center. Parking will not be allowed on any side of the NLEC. The police presence will be beefed up to arrest "troublemakers."
Rice says not only is this detrimental to the homeless, who'll be shuffled off to some other part of the city, he characterizes the parking restrictions as a direct assault on the center's ability to function and receive donations, clothes, and food.
"We get $1,000 to $5,000 in in-kind donations a day," he says. Preventing parking, he contends, will essentially "cut off our donor support."
Rice says he plans to continue to provide usual services, but keep a close eye on the drop in donations over the next eight days. If they're substantial enough, Rice says he's prepared to sue. He says he's grateful for the help the city will provide to the homeless during the special enforcement period, but says that it's just a "dog and pony show" to cover the fact that the city is just evicting the homeless from downtown.
"When the head of human services can use the police as his personal goon squad," says Rice, "then something's grossly wrong."