Homelessness in Downtown: Is New Life Evangelistic Center the Problem or the Solution?
Reverend Larry Rice, the embattled director of New Life Evangelistic Center in downtown St. Louis, is facing one of his toughest battles yet -- an effort by downtown residents and business owners to revoke his hotel license and shut New Life's homeless shelter down for good.
Jennifer Silverberg Reverend Larry Rice outside of New Life Evangelistic Center.
This particular fight, which goes before Board of Public Service in a week, is new but the issues are not -- therefore Rice's son, Chris, a pastor at New Life, is participating in a town hall-style meeting this evening to discuss the general challenge of managing the city's homeless population.
Reverend Michael Kinman, who will be hosting and moderating the discussion at Christ Church Cathedral, says the point is to try to come up with a way for the two sides to come together productively rather than point fingers.
"We've spent way too much effort in the history of downtown with the constantly fighting each other," he says.
Though the event is billed as a general discussion on homelessness in St. Louis, the issue of the future of New Life will almost certainly be raised. Founded by Rice in the '70s and located 1411 Locust Street, the building is run as an emergency shelter and safe haven for the downtown's homeless, and crowds regularly gather outside on the sidewalk in hopes of finding a bed for the night. These crowds are not always the most well behaved.
In his effort to defend the rights of the homeless, Rice himself has become something of a lightning rod. Last year he attempted to create a tent city for the homeless called Integrity Village, which the city quickly condemned, raided and destroyed, arresting Rice in the process.
In this latest fight, downtown residents and businesses complain of homeless men drunk in the streets, urinating on sides of buildings, taking drugs and fighting. A petition filed in April seeks to declare New Life a detriment to the downtown area and requests that the city suspend or revoke the center's hotel license. That option will be officially discussed next week, on September 24, during a hearing of the Board of Public Service.
Kinman, dean of the Christ Church Cathedral, insists tonight's town hall gathering will be so much more than another contentious (and ultimately unproductive) debate over whether or not Rice's church should continue hosting hundreds of homeless individuals every night.
"This isn't about should we have New Life or not," said Kinman. "We're having it a week before the [Board of Public Service] hearing because we want people to go into that hearing with a sense of our ability to work together, instead of repeating our history of fighting each other, which doesn't help anyone."
Along with Chris Rice, the meeting will include Board of Alderman President Lewis Reed, business owners, local residents and members of the homeless community. The discussion will be moderated by Kinman and Washington University Professor Jean Allman, and panelists will speak for only three minutes each before the discussion opens up to the audience.
Attendees should go to Christ Church Cathedral at 1210 Locust Street tonight at 7 p.m.
What do you think? Should the city find a better way to manage the needs of the downtown's homeless population? Should New Life be shut down?