ST. LOUIS–(KMOX)–Another showdown over the homeless is brewing between the Reverend Larry Rice and the Slay Administration — this time on the issue of sidewalk camping near Rice’s homeless center downtown.
Director of Human Services Bill Siedhoff says a group of 25-to-30 homeless have been sleeping on the sidewalks on Locust and St. Charles streets between 14th and 15th streets, causing an eyesore, the odor of public defecation and the fear of crime.
The drawing card, Siedhoff says, is the free sandwiches and other services offered by the New Life Evangelistic Center at 1411 Locust.
Siedhoff says he’s working with the homeless now to provide them “housing alternatives,” but warns that the deadline to clear the sidewalks is Thursday night at ten o’clock. That’s when he says the police will remove anyone left. Then the street department will hose down the sidewalks, and crews will install parade barricades to keep the sidewalks off limits.
It’s unclear whether repeat offenders would be arrested — if caught camping out again. “Our legal team is looking into that,” Siedhoff said, “But we have to have some kind of enforcement mechanism.”
Reverend Rice held a news conference condemning the city’s plans, saying the homeless have a right to sleep on the public sidewalks.
“If you got money, you can sit on the sidewalk on Washington Avenue,” Rice said, “If you don’t have money they want to use the police power and send the police down to arrest you.”
Rice argues the city is on “shaky legal ground,” if it attempts to enforce a ban on sidewalk camping.
“When you start saying people can’t trespass on sidewalks, you’re on some pretty flimsy Constitutional grounds,” Rice said.
Siedhoff claims the nightly campouts on Rice’s doorstep are an indictment of the living conditions inside New Life Evangelistic Center.
“The problem is they don’t want to go into New Life,” Siedhoff said, “It smells bad, it’s not clean and it’s dangerous.”
Rice was asked if he’s frustrated that the people he claims to minister to don’t want to sleep under his roof.
“It doesn’t frustrate me,” Rice said, “I can understand them, because they can’t smoke in there. They might want to have a cigarette. They might want to be close to their boyfriend or girlfriend, or even their husband or wife because there’s no co-ed shelter.”
Rice was asked about reports a man believed to be homeless fatally stabbed another over a bag of Cheetos last night at 6th and Washington.
“There’s going to be more of that if you totally close this place and shove them out of here,” Rice said. But he added that to blame the killing on his center is “a stretch of the imagination,” because the crime took place some eight blocks away.
Rice also claims that complaints about public defecation would ease, if the city would allow him to put a porta-potty outside near his shelter.
Earlier this year Rice and City Hall clashed over the city’s removal of homeless from three encampments along the riverfront. Then Rice was arrested for trespassing as he attempted to set up a homeless encampment on a vacant lot at Interstate 44 and Vandeventer.