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Lawsuit alleges new St. Louis homeless shelter 'not suitable for habitability'

Lawsuit alleges new St. Louis homeless shelter 'not suitable for habitability'

ST. LOUIS • A circuit judge denied on Friday afternoon a motion that would have prevented city leaders from opening a homeless shelter as early as Sunday in a warehouse north of downtown.

Attorneys representing five homeless people argued before Circuit Judge Robert Dierker that a storage building for the city's Forestry Division amounts to "inadequate care" of the city's poor and is in violation of state statute, which says the city has a duty to provide "adequate shelter and other necessary services" to its most vulnerable population.

Dierker denied the temporary restraining order but set a hearing for 10 a.m. Wednesday on a preliminary injunction sought by ArchCity Defenders and St. Louis University Law Clinics. In the preliminary injunction lawsuit, attorneys for the homeless argue that the building at 1415 North 13th Street contains, among other things, "hazardous materials and chemicals and is not suitable for habitability by humans."

The new city shelter would be a temporary home for 75 men, in response to the closure this weekend of the Rev. Larry Rice's New Life Evangelistic Center downtown.

The suit comes a day after Rice announced he would comply with a city order to shut down his long-running shelter, amid neighborhood complaints and a series of code violations. Rice also has been operating without an occupancy permit since May 2015.

One of the lead attorneys is Thomas Harvey, who also serves as chairman of the city's Continuum of Care, an umbrella group of nonprofit organizations that serve the homeless.  The group is usually at odds with Rice because he has refused to join the other organizations in a combined effort to provide services. Rice says too many restrictions are in place that ultimately hurt those he shelters.

But in this case Harvey questions shutting down New Life, saying a suitable replacement is not ready.

"The City of St. Louis is currently taking efforts to close the largest homeless shelter in the city while failing to have adequate replacement shelter," the suit claims. Rice, an independent candidate for mayor, is expected to hold a "Save the Shelter" rally at 10 a.m. Saturday outside New Life. He has said he will close the shelter at 5 p.m. Sunday, but doing so will create a greater homeless presence on downtown streets.

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