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City board orders New Life shelter to close by April

New Life Evangelistic Center doesn't like to be held to a set capacity for shelter. Administrators say they don't want to turn anyone away.
File photo | Rachel Lippmann | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated Jan. 13 with results of appeal — A city board is ordering a downtown homeless shelter to close by April 1. 

On Thursday, St. Louis' Board of Building Appeals denied New Life Evangelistic Center's appeal of a cease and desist notice issued in early November. The center has been operating without an occupancy permit since May 2015.

The letter ordered New Life to get a permit, appeal the letter, or stop operating. New Life filed an appeal in December.

City Attorney Michael Garvin said in an email Friday that the board decided to delay enforcement until April 1, when the weather will be warmer.

New Life founder Rev. Larry Rice and Vice-President Ray Redlich have previously stated they intended to appeal to a state or federal court to block the city from shutting down the shelter.

Original story from Nov. 9 — The city of St. Louis is ordering a downtown shelter to close its doors or finish applying for a new occupancy permit.

New Life Evangelistic Center received a cease and desist notice from St. Louis Building Commissioner Frank Oswald on Wednesday. He told the shelter it has 30 days to get a new permit, vacate its building at 1411 Locust Street or file an appeal with the city’s Board of Building Appeals.

“They have no permit at all to occupy the property. And they’ve been simply using it for more than a year now without any permit whatsoever," City Attorney Michael Garvin said. "And that’s a violation of city law,” 

If New Life closes, Human Services Director Eddie Roth said his department is prepared to take in the people currently at the shelter.

“It won’t be easy," Roth said. "It will be cumbersome and expensive, but if NLEC closes because of its failure to obtain the proper safety ordinance occupancy permitting we’ll be ready to do our part.”

Roth estimates that between 100 and 175 people stay at New Life every night, and that it would cost the city hundreds of thousands of dollars to put together the additional beds needed. 

“We’re looking at about six months of transitional shelter for people who would be staying there, maybe in the order of six months or so and during that period integrating them into our existing shelter system when vacancies occur and also moving people quickly into (permanent) housing,” he said.  

Roth said the city-owned Biddle Housing Opportunities Center has the capacity to double its nightly occupancy for men to 200.

“So the men we’d likely bring to Biddle for not more than six months,” Roth said. “And we’d look at a separate facility for about 70 women.”

St. Patrick Center, the agency operating Biddle, is slated to receive more than $1 million by the end of the year from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development. That would temporarily pay the rent for people currently in shelters while they get job support to be self-supporting, and create vacancies at Biddle and other city-funded shelters, Roth said.

After ruling that New Life was a detriment to the neighborhood in December 2014, the city’s Board of Public Service gave New Life until May 12, 2015 to apply for a new occupancy permit or close its doors.

In response, New Life sued the city in federal court. The judge dismissed the case and told the shelter to try to apply for a new permit. Since then, New Life has been fighting a legal battle to get a new permit without asking its neighbors for approval — a requirement of applying for a shelter occupancy permit.

Residents and property owners neighboring New Life initiated the proceedings that led to the revocation of its original permit.

New Life exhausted its options to appeal at the city level in September, when the Board of Building Appeals officially ruled that the shelter had to get permission from its neighbors, a procedure called a “plat and petition.”

“After the decision came from the Board of Building Appeals we wanted to give them a chance to start the petition process, and they haven’t done that,” Garvin said. “We’re basically lighting a fire under them to either get an occupancy permit or stop operations.”

After receiving the cease and desist notice Wednesday, New Life founder Rev. Larry Rice said he is planning to appeal.

“What we see is part of a calculated maneuver to get us to put the 200 plus people we have at our place at 1411 Locust out on the streets with the many other homeless people who are already out there between 13th and 15th streets," Rice said. "This would prove to be cruel and unusual punishment. We’re definitely appealing this."

Rice said New Life hasn’t started asking its neighbors for permission to continue shelter operations because it has asked the state court to review the Board of Building Appeals decision.

But Garvin said the city doesn’t need to wait for state to review the decision to order New Life to get a permit or close its doors.

“The sole issue in that appeal is whether or not they have to comply with the city’s plat and petition procedures,” Garvin said. “We think they do need to.”

New Life’s previous hearing with the Board of Building Appeals lasted for months. Garvin said he didn’t know how long the process would take this time.

Follow Camille on Twitter: @cmpcamille

Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.

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