ST. LOUIS (KMOX) – The Reverend Larry Rice fights for the survival of his downtown homeless shelter, the New Life Evangelistic Center, as he appears before a city board with the power to shut him down.
In response to a neighborhood petition drive complaining of homeless people loitering, fighting, urinating in public, and committing crimes, the seven-member Board of Public Service is scheduled to hold the first of three hearings Tuesday to consider revoking Rice’s hotel permit.
“The presence of this facility does constitute an impediment to reasonable development, both commercially and residentialy,” said attorney Elkin Kistner representing the petition drive.
Rice plans to argue that he can’t be blamed for all the problems with homeless downtown, when his is one of four homeless service providers in the neighborhood. Also, he claims, his shelter is shielded from City Hall interference by the Constitution.
“We have protections under the Constitution. We are a church and we’re going to continue to follow Jesus Christ and not the Slay Administration,” Rice said.
Even before the hearing begins, Rice is complaining that the Board of Public Service, comprised of city department heads appointed by Mayor Slay, is “a stacked deck.” Slay and Rice have had their run-ins through the years over how the city should respond to the homeless.
“A lot of it is control,” Rice said of the friction between him and city hall, “Because we don’t take city, state or federal dollars, they are not able to control us like the other agencies.”
Attorney Kistner says the Board of Public Service will provide Rice with the fair ability to call witnesses, cross examine opposing witnesses, and appeal any final decision on his hotel license.
“If he thinks the decision is unfair, he can appeal it to the Circuit Court,” Kistner said.
Kistner also disputes Rice’s claim that his religious mission exempts him from the rules of the hotel permit which Rice himself agreed to when the New Life Evangelistic Center was founded.
“He signed an application to operate a hotel, his signature was notarized , and he agreed to abide by the laws of the city of St. Louis with respect to hotel operations,” Kistner said.
Kistner says he plans to call witnesses including downtown residents, police, and developers to testify how the NLEC has violated twelve provisions of the city’s hotel permit law.
Here is a list of those twelve provisions as they appear in the statute:
1. The character of the neighborhood in which the premises is located, with particular consideration being given to the proximity of the premises to parks, churches, schools, playgrounds, residences and hospitals;
2. Loitering in the immediate vicinity of the premises by persons frequenting the premises;
3. Littering committed by persons frequenting the premises or by the permit holder, his agents, servants or employees;
4. Drinking in public by persons frequenting the premises;
5. Lewd and indecent conduct, including but not limited to public urination, exhibited by persons frequenting the premises or by permit holder, his employees, servants or agents, whether such behavior occurs on the premises or in the immediate vicinity thereof;
6. Commission of crimes upon or in the immediate vicinity of a premises by persons frequenting the premises or by the permit holder, his employees, servants or agents;
7. Sale or use of illegal drugs upon or in the immediate vicinity of the premises by persons frequenting the premises or by the permit holder, his employees, servants or agents;
8. Harassing or intimidating behavior exhibited by persons frequenting or congregating about the premises toward persons living in the neighborhood in which the premises is located or toward persons passing by the premises;
9. Noise associated with the operation of the premises or caused by persons frequenting the premises;
10. Street and sidewalk congestion associated with operation of the premises;
11. Existence of proper lighting and appropriate parking facilities, or the lack thereof;
12. Other facilities, which, due to the character of the neighborhood or of the premises, would be relevant to the determination of whether continuation of a permit would be detrimental to the neighborhood in which the premises is located.