By dinnertime, the beds had started to fill.
Earlier, employees for the city of St. Louis had laid out about 70 green and orange cots in the corner of a Forestry Division warehouse in the Carr Square neighborhood. They anticipated that at least several dozen people would be without shelter on Sunday night as the city order the closing the New Life Evangelistic Center, in downtown St. Louis, after a years-long legal battle.
“We had the floor painted, we got new cots, we got water, we got refreshments. We’re doing our very best to accommodate the situation,” said Hence “Sarge” Forland, the shelter’s coordinator.
Seventy-six men and 23 women had checked in by 9 p.m. Sunday, according to the city's human services director, Eddie Roth. The warehouse, at 1415 N. 13th St., is serving as an overflow shelter for men. Showers and meals are provided at the nearby Biddle Housing Opportunities Center. Women and children were sent to a shelter in the 12th and Park Recreation Center at 1410 S. Tucker Blvd.
“The premise of this exercise is to quickly move as many people out of temporary, overflow shelter and into housing or our regular shelter system,” Roth said.
On Sunday, a thin, middle-aged man sat next to a power outlet in the warehouse, using a breathing machine to treat emphysema.
“It’s been rough, man. Ever since I lost my place, I started coming down with all these medical problems and everything,” said Richard Riegerix, 46. “I miss my cat.”
It's Riegerix's first time being homeless, and he recently checked out of a hospital. He stayed at New Life for three months, before the city forced it to close. He said the Rev. Larry Rice, who operated the shelter and a religious TV station, should have gotten more help from the city to bring his building up to code.
“You know, he was a great guy. Let people come into his place, put a roof over their head and was feeding them, clothing them,” Riegerix said. “The city should have been taking their taxes, instead of building football stadiums and soccer stadiums, and helping these people out.”
A city board ruled New Life, at 1411 Locust St., a "nuisance" and in 2015 revoked its permit, which limited its occupancy to 32 people. The shelter regularly housed more than 150 people. City inspectors found a lengthy list of building code violations, as well as bed bugs. Rice is appealing the city board ruling to St. Louis Circuit Court.
Meanwhile, Arch City Defenders and Saint Louis University Law School's Legal Clinics on Friday filed a lawsuit against the city, alleging the temporary warehouse shelter is unfit for human habitation. A judge is scheduled to hear that case on Wednesday.
“Warehousing 100 men experiencing homelessness in a garage away in a low-income community of color is not a solution,” Thomas Harvey, ArchCity Defender's executive director, wrote in a news release announcing the suit.
“We can do better, and given how many years the City of St. Louis has planned to shut down NLEC, we should have done better.”
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