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Another Delay In Battle Over Downtown Homeless Shelter

New Life Evangelistic Center doesn't like to be held to a set capacity for shelter. Administrators say they don't want to turn anyone away.
File photo | Rachel Lippmann | St. Louis Public Radio

A nearly two-year-old fight to close the New Life Evangelistic Center in downtown St. Louis will last a while longer. 

Residents and business owners around the homeless shelter at 1411 Locust started collecting signatures in December 2012. The petition demanded that the Board of Public Service hold a hearing on whether the emergency overnight shelter was a nuisance that should have its hotel license stripped. Hearings on the petition began in September 2013.

The board had been expected to vote on the petition at its hearing Tuesday, but held off at the request of Mayor Francis Slay, who wants the petitioners and representatives of New Life Evangelistic Center to sit down and talk.

"Although I have not been a participant in the board's hearing process, I know that once evidence and complaints have been aired, it is sometimes easier for adverse parties to understand the other's concerns and negotiate a compromise," read the letter from Slay's chief of staff, Jeff Rainford.  "My hope is that the parties can come to a consensus that that will protect the interest of downtown property owners and residents while maintaining and improving services for the homeless."

Rainford said the two sides haven't been talking, which is why he is encouraging them to sit down with city attorney Mike Garvin and work out a compromise.

"It's up to them to decide," Rainford said. "We're going to give them that opportunity and they either will or they won't."

Larry Rice, the founder and director of New Life Evangelistic Center, said he was willing to negotiate, "but we don't want it at the expense of anyone who has to sleep outside.

"If St. Louis wanted to do more for downtown, they'd open up more shelters that people could walk into," Rice said. "If they'd join with us in a lawsuit against St. Louis County, St. Charles County, Jefferson County, we could see those numbers reduced by getting those other counties to take care of the homeless in their counties like state law requires."

Rice said the shelter has already installed additional lights, and is encouraging the homeless to line up just before they are allowed into the shelter, rather than congregating for hours before.

The mayor's office did not say how long it expected the two sides to talk before the Board of Public Service finally takes a vote.

Follow Rachel Lippmann on Twitter: @rlippmann

Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.

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