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News 4 investigates plans for homeless camp near Botanical Gardens

by Diana Zoga / News 4

KMOV.com

Posted on May 14, 2012 at 6:26 PM

Updated Monday, May 14 at 6:31 PM

ST. LOUIS (KMOV) -- What started out as a press conference for the New Life Evangelistic Center to announce a new homeless camp on Monday escalated into a verbal confrontation between some neighbors and the religious center.

“You didn’t ask the people that live down here. You don’t live down here,” shouted Antoinette Williams.

Williams lives less than half a mile from the lot on the northeast corner of I-44 and Vandeventer, where the NLEC is leasing private property for a new tent city called Dignity Harbor.

“We’ve worked on this neighborhood. This neighborhood has gone from, in 10 to 15 years, from one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in the nation when it was McRee Town to now, we’re statistically one of the safest neighborhoods in the city,” said Brent Crittenden.

Crittenden, a member of the Botanical Heights Neighborhood Association, suspects the property owner’s offer to lease the land to the NLEC may be the result of bad blood over a failed redevelopment deal.

Two years ago, QuikTrip considered building a new gas station on the property as long as the non-profit Garden District Commission agreed to sell adjacent property to the company. The group refused to sell and the deal fell through.

Middleton Carouthers owns nearly two acres that QuikTrip would have considered redeveloping.

“We’ve been here 16 years. Taxes, maintenance on the property and we can’t get anything done,” said Carouthers.

Carouthers denied welcoming Dignity Harbor out of spite. He said he decided to reach out to the NLEC after the city began tearing down illegal homeless camps along the riverfront.

“I think we owe it to our citizens. This is a community thing, it’s the right thing to do,” Carouthers said.

Whatever the motivation, St. Louis City’s Public Safety Director Eddie Rothe says homeless people will not be allowed to move onto the land.

“We’re not messing around. This is a stunt, this is not a serious attempt to help homeless people,” Roth said. “Anyone who puts up any kind of structure - one tent, five tents, 10 tents, will have it removed immediately and the property will be cleared.”

Rev. Larry Rice of the NLEC says he’ll argue that federal law protects religious use of the land. As soon as Wednesday he plans to put up a tent for worship services on the site, setting up a potential legal showdown with the city and an emotional showdown with neighbors.

“Find some buildings, fix them up,” suggested Williams. “Do not put them on the corner where we live with our children and families,”

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