A two year-long battle over the fate of a downtown St. Louis homeless shelter could come to an end on Tuesday, when a city agency votes on a petition to revoke New Life Evangelistic Center’s hotel license.
Downtown residents and business owners began petitioning to close New Life two years ago, saying that the facility is a detriment to the neighborhood.
Mayor Francis Slay requested that the two sides undergo mediation in October, but New Life founder Rev. Larry Rice said the mediation was not successful.
“We were not able to get a response to our projections on ways to try and deal with what they consider to be a nuisance. And so as a result, we began to wonder is this a real concern they have or do they just want the homeless, the African-American males and the other individuals who are homeless out of the neighborhood all together,” Rice said.
“The only thing they would talk about was reducing our population by 90 percent from 300, 320 a night to 32. And without offering any place for people to go. And we cannot do that. We’d say we cannot just turn these people away to know that they’re going to freeze outside,” Rice added.
When the city first gave Rice permission to open a shelter in 1976 it was also for 32 beds.
Rice said that he doesn’t know what’s going to happen on Tuesday, but he has planned a response.
“If they try to say we have to lock up and put everybody on the street for Christmas Day, I will probably do everything I can to gather as many representatives from the community as we can to actually refuse to do that.
“If they try to reduce our numbers over the next three years to the fact that hundreds of people are spending future Christmases outside, we’re going to have to resist that. And God willing we can do that through the court,” Rice said.
Maggie Crane, the mayor’s spokeswoman, said that no matter what the board decides, the city will be prepared to meet the needs of the homeless through existing services it provides. She also said that any decision the board makes would take time to go into effect, meaning that any possible changes would likely be delayed until after the holidays.
Follow Camille Phillips on Twitter: @cmpcamille