ST. LOUIS (KMOX) - It seems the swift and strident shutdown of a proposed tent city for the homeless at I-44 and Vandeventer earlier this month was not the final word on the matter.
At least not in the mind of the Reverend Larry Rice, longtime homeless advocate and founder of New Life Evangelistic Center.
“Just because somebody has lost their address, they have not lost their mind,” Rice said during Tuesday morning’s hearing of the Human Services Committee, as several homeless people in attendance cheered him on. “They have not lost their ability, they can elect their own leadership and they can function in their own way. We can begin to treat them as human beings. They are not criminals.”
Rice is pushing for the Board of Aldermen to enact legislation that would allow for the establishment of a tent community on property within city limits.
“Because we’re going to have (tent cities) anyway, and the whole case is ‘Are they going to be legal or illegal?’,” Rice told Human Services Committee members. “I want to see them legal.”
Rice is fresh off being arrested at the I-44/Vandeventer site, which city leaders condemned for occupancy.
During their often-contentious interchange, committee chair Steven Conway seemed less concerned about the question of a tent city itself than its proposed location.
“Why would you put them near residential places on Lafayette?,” Conway asked, noting that homeless encampments are often populated by people with a history of criminal activity or mental illness.
“We HAVE to!,” Rice shot back. “They’re in the neighborhoods anyway! The only thing is we’re all coming together rather than being pushed from place to place, being woke up at 10 o’clock at night by a police officer and then if you react to him he locks you up.”
Among Rice’s demands in a letter recently sent to the St. Louis Board of Aldermen:
* An investigation into the Department of Human Services’ control over continuum of care, which he believes should be free of influence from city hall.
* Introduction of legislation to set aside one (1) acre of ground for a tent community.
* An investigation into the Department of Public Safety and the “misuse of power” when it comes to condemnations.
He accused city officials of being too heavy-handed in their dealings with the homeless, particularly the shutdown of Integrity Village at I-44 and Vandementer.
“By shutting down that tent community, it’s like hitting a puddle of water with a hammer,” Rice said. “It just dispersed (the homeless problem) all over, and a lot of it is up and down our streets and downtown.”