ST. LOUIS • A city board finalized on Tuesday an order that requires the Rev. Larry Rice’s New Life Evangelistic Center to either close or reduce its capacity.
Rice’s occupancy permit, issued in 1976, allows the shelter to operate with a 32-bed limit. For years, the shelter has operated with more than 200 beds.
“Larry Rice confirmed that the NLEC houses up to 325 guests per night, and that those people must leave the facility after 14 days if they refuse to become part of the NLEC worship program,” says the written order filed on Tuesday by the city’s Board of Public Service.
In December, the board informally ruled Rice’s shelter a nuisance, but waited to file a formal written order.
Rice now can sue in state court and challenge the ruling. He has until about April 12 to begin compliance with the order, which requires him to either reduce his capacity to 32 beds or apply for a new license that would allow him to house more than 200 people on any given night.
“There’s a better way to provide temporary shelter,” said Winston Calvert, the St. Louis city counselor. “We’re on that path.”
The city has complained that Rice operates according to a 1970s-era homeless model that does little to rehabilitate the homeless men and women who walk through his doors. Rice responds that he is doing the city a service by offering downtown’s only walk-in shelter.
A group of downtown residents, led by developer Brad Waldrop, brought the matter before the board in 2013, alleging that the shelter is a drag on downtown and prevents investment in the heart of the city. A petition alleges that the shelter is “being operated in such manner as to constitute a detriment to its neighborhood.” The petition cites loitering; littering; drinking in public; lewd and indecent conduct in and around the shelter; drug use and sales; and intimidating behavior and noise.
The city says it is working on a plan for when Rice’s shelter has to close.
Rice has publicly stated he will not comply with the order.