City Agrees to Stop Using Forestry Warehouse to House Homeless by June

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Advocates protest the closure of New Life Evangelical Center last year. Many residents were moved to a warehouse last week after the city finally shut down the shelter. - PHOTO BY NICK SCHNELLE
  • PHOTO BY NICK SCHNELLE
  • Advocates protest the closure of New Life Evangelical Center last year. Many residents were moved to a warehouse last week after the city finally shut down the shelter.

By June 5, the city of St. Louis will shut down the warehouse it recently started using to house its overflow homeless population, ArchCity Defenders announced this morning.

The June deadline is part of a legal settlement, reached after the non-profit law firm and the legal clinic at Saint Louis University filed a lawsuit last week over the warehouse.
The city argues that the warehouse is a clean, safe, lawful shelter for the men in need. - COURTESY OF ST. LOUIS CITY
  • COURTESY OF ST. LOUIS CITY
  • The city argues that the warehouse is a clean, safe, lawful shelter for the men in need.

Last Sunday, the city officially shuttered New Life Evangelistic Center, the downtown homeless shelter long considered the "shelter of last resort" for those in need. The Rev. Larry Rice had been operating the place without a permit for years, and city officials had been sharply critical of his management. Neighbors, too, argued that problems at New Life spilled outside the shelter and had become a problem for those nearby.

The city had said the homeless wouldn't be left without shelter. But the building it set up to house the influx of people now in need horrified ArchCity and other advocates when they toured it. Owned by the city's Forestry Division, the "St. Louis Weed Control" warehouse had housed chemicals and other toxic materials — though the city insists they were gone before the new residents showed up. (The city also notes the warehouse received a full inspection and was deemed worthy of an occupancy permit. The 75 men housed on site, they note, would be close to a larger shelter where they could receive hot showers and three meals a day.)

The legal advocates filed a class action lawsuit, as well as a request for a temporary restraining order, last week. The suit did not represent Rice or seek to reopen his shelter — but it did argue that the city needed to do better for his former residents than the old warehouse.

On that, it apparently found common ground with the city. According to a statement from ArchCity Defenders:
Outside of court, the parties reached an agreement on behalf of people experiencing homelessness that requires the City to stop using a warehouse as a homeless shelter by June 5th, to no longer store lawn equipment, vehicles and hazardous materials in the garage, and to no longer use the Forestry Division's buildings as a place for human habitation.

The City has also promised to reduce the homeless population in the Weed Control building to zero by moving residents to safe, habitable shelter or housing.

Update at 11:30 a.m.

We just received the city's response — and they're coming out swinging.

City Counselor Michael Garvin had this to say in a prepared statement:
"The lawsuit filed by Arch City and SLU Law Clinic was frivolous and changed nothing. The City always planned to close the temporary shelter in the Forestry building in June. That was true before the lawsuit was filed and it was true after the suit was filed. The City simply stated what it always intended to do.

"The temporary shelters were established by the City to accommodate those who might need shelter after the New Life Evangelistic Center shelter closed on April 2. The City has successfully accommodated those individuals and others, without incident. The City provides access to an array of public services for the homeless, professional staff and a significant upgrade in the quality of conditions, as compared to NLEC.

"If Arch City Defenders and SLU Law Clinic truly care about improving conditions for the homeless, we'd hope they'd look to other jurisdictions that fail to provide for individuals experiencing homelessness.

"It also raises the question of why Arch City was silent when NLEC was concentrating hundreds of people into a bedbug-infested shelter with no professional staff, an inadequate fire suppression system, and an unsanitary encampment and K-2 synthetic drug epidemic outside its front door."


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