Downtown group asks city to shut down homeless shelter

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by Diana Zoga/News 4

KMOV.com

Posted on April 29, 2013 at 8:58 PM

(KMOV) -- A group of property owners in downtown St. Louis are taking a new step to ask the city to shut down a homeless shelter with a history of complaints.

The City of St. Louis' legal department is now reviewing a formal petition that calls for the city to shut down the New Life Evangelistic Center on Locust Street. Mayor Francis Slay's Communications Director Maggie Crane tells News 4 that the city received 167 signatures on Friday afternoon. The petition was submitted by attorney Elkin Kistner, who says he was hired by a group of property owners who live within about 350 feet of the NLEC.

Kistner told News 4, by phone, that the group can no longer tolerate "this type of nuisance in their presence".

The petition lists a number of issues logged by neighbors including: loitering, drinking in public, public urination, noise, and harassment in and around the NLEC.

Last fall, the city set up barricades on the sidewalks that surround the NLEC after complaints over large groups of people camping out on the sidewalks. News 4 heard from neighbors who reported seeing people using illegal drugs and defecating in the street.

The barricades are still up and according to the city, there are no immediate plans to remove them.

Still, the group behind the petition is asking the city to hold a hearing before the Board of Public Service.

On Monday, Crane told News 4 that the city would not make any comments on camera about a potential hearing until the legal department reviewed the request.

"The city is making sure everyone receives due process and our law department is best determining how to move forward," said Crane.

The NLEC is headed up by the Reverend Larry Rice who has long been at odds with the city. Last year, Rice attempted to set-up homeless camps in city neighborhoods.

Monday afternoon, Rice said he was not aware of the petition until a reporter called, but said he wasn't surprised.

"We're determined. We have attorneys that are on notice and ready to defend all this," said Rice.

"Bear in mind there are homeless people that don't have anyplace at all to go. We accommodate many, many people at the New Life Evangelistic Center," he added.

Rice says that in extremely cold weather, the NLEC can allow as many as 250 people to spend the night if the shelter makes common rooms available.

The city puts the number of beds at NLEC at 120.

Monday morning, the city's Human Services Director says it would be difficult to accommodate that many people if the shelter were to shut down. Director Bill Siedhoff added that the city would scramble to find shelter.

The director of the Human Services Department is one of six city department heads that sit on the Board of Public Service (in addition to the President of the Board). It's unclear when or if the the Board of Public Service would agree to hold a hearing over NLEC's operating license. Kistner said he expected that a hearing could be held in several weeks.

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