City promises to clean up homeless camps, downtown

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by Diana Zoga / News 4

KMOV.com

Posted on August 30, 2012 at 9:44 PM

Updated Thursday, Aug 30 at 10:39 PM

ST. LOUIS (KMOV.com) -- In the alleys and sidewalks, bordering the New Life Evangelistic Center downtown, people have set up blankets and sleeping bags. There are adults and kids, couples, and single men. One homeless man, who did not want to be identified, said he sleeps in the 15th and Locust street area because it's well lit and he feels safer in a group.

But, that safe feeling doesn't always extend to other downtown residents.

"By late p.m., early a.m., it's mayhem," said Mike Jackson who lives in an apartment building on the next block.

"A lot of drinking, drugging, and fighting. There's small children out here in diapers, it's a bad scene all around."

The alleys and parking lots are often used as bathrooms. 

That observation was made by several other residents and the city's Human Services Director.

"It's very clear that we're going to have to address that because this is not something that can be tolerated in any neighborhood in the city of St Louis," said Bill Siedhoff.

Starting next week, Siedhoff says the city will take more measures to work with the homeless, who are camping in the downtown west neighborhood.

Wednesday, starting at 5:30 pm, Siedhoff says representatives from the Health Department and Department of Human Services will offer homeless people help getting into other shelters. On Thursday night, street crews will be ask to pick up trash and hose down the streets. Siedhoff says police have already committed a few officers to working overtime in the neighborhood to watch for illegal activity.

The city is also asking the New Life Evangelistic Center to cooperate, "To be more flexible in terms of who they allow into their facility and when they allow them into their facility," said Siedhoff.

The NLEC's founder, Rev. Larry Rice has long been at odds with the city and has a history of testing local government's limits. Most recently, he asked homeless people to camp in neighborhoods in south St. Louis and in North County only to have the homeless forced out by police.

NLEC restricts how many days a homeless person can stay in the shelter. Women and children must check-in between 3:30 and 4:30 p.m. If they don't make those times, Rice says women and children can check in at 8:30 p.m. through 4 a.m. Men can check in from 5 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. and can return again at 10 p.m. to check in until 4 a.m. Unless the homeless person is enrolled in a 30 day or 90 day treatment program at NLEC, everyone has to check out between 6 a.m. and 7 a.m.

Rice says those hours are more flexible and often, the homeless camp outside because the NLEC runs out of beds and mats.

"They have a right to be on a sidewalk. I don't own that property so for someone to try and say one plus one equals four and try to accuse us of the problem... is absurd," said Rev. Rice.

Jackson says he believes the NLEC is run like "a motel", rather than a resource for the homeless.

"I hope they find services for the folks that are there," said Jackson.

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