A federal judge has ruled that the New Life Evangelistic Center in downtown St. Louis can stay open, until further order from the court.
More than 200 people sleep at the shelter every night; up to 325 during the colder months, according to shelter officials. Frequently, people sleep on mats in a large overflow room. In December, the St. Louis Board of Public Service ruled that the shelter is a detriment to the neighborhood and must close unless it comes into compliance with city regulations. In response, the shelter’s director, Rev. Larry Rice, has filed a suit against the city in federal court.
In the interim, Rice said the city has failed to provide adequate alternatives for the shelter’s residents.
“I’m not going to tell a woman you have to go back out on those streets, and sleep out there, and knowing she could be raped or murdered out there,” Rice said. “I can’t do that as a minister.”
But according to the city’s Board of Public Service, the shelter is not safe.
In 2008, a young man was stabbed and killed during his stay, and the Board’s December ruling included concerns regarding the frequency of assaults, illegal drug use and a lack of security at the shelter.
After complaints from the downtown business community, the Board determined that the shelter must close unless it comes into compliance with its original hotel permit for 32 beds, or until it applies for another permit to shelter additional people in accordance with city law. The shelter is at 1411 Locust Street.
Rice submitted an application for a building permit to comply with the city’s requests on July 10. It would be zoned as a church. Rice said he would submit building plans for approval in the coming weeks.
During a press conference at the shelter Thursday, residents took turns at the microphone telling their personal stories of how they became homeless and pleading for the city to help. Rita Sharritt, who lives at the shelter with her three grandchildren, said that if the shelter closes, they will have nowhere to go.
“I called every hotline three times a day as requested. I went down to St. Patrick’s and asked for help. If New Life had not been available to us, I’d have probably lost my kids,” Sharritt said.
The trial for the lawsuit brought against the city is scheduled for Nov, 9.
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