The New Life Evangelistic Center’s emergency homeless shelter in downtown St. Louis is no worse for the neighborhood than bars nearby on Washington Avenue.
That was the argument that the Reverend Larry Rice and his supporters made Tuesday to the city’s Board of Public Service, which is deciding whether to strip the shelter’s hotel permit at the request of downtown residents and business owners. They say New Life is a detriment to the neighborhood, citing drug sales, drunkenness, and public urination and intoxication.
But Scott Egan, who has lived at New Life since June and supervises its mens' shelters, says he's seen more public drunkenness from sports fans than New Life clients.
"I believe that New Life is an asset to the city, and I believe it’s an asset to the neighborhood insofar as the building itself has been maintained continually at a time when the entire rest of the neighborhood was blighted and unoccupied," Egan said.
Egan also dismissed testimony given last month by St. Louis police officers who testified they'd witnessed drug sales, saying the officers could not have clearly seen what they claimed to have seen.
Rice went further. New Life isn't a detriment to the neighborhood, he argued, but if it was, the petitioners can't strip its permit because the shelter is being operated as a function of worship.
"I see it throughout all the Scripture, all the way back to Abraham when he welcomed three strangers, through the whole Exodus period, even Deuteronomy speaks of how it's not only a biblical mandate but a tradition," he said.
But Rice says he will always be willing to correct specific problems that are brought to his attention.
Attorneys for New Life say they have one or two more days of witnesses left to call. There is no deadline for the Board of Public Service to act on the petition.
Follow Rachel Lippmann on Twitter: @rlippmann