ST. LOUIS, MO (KTVI)-- Homeless advocate the Reverend Larry Rice plans to set up a small tent city of homeless people on a vacant lot on a North County residential street Saturday morning. Residents along Lada Avenue just north of Natural Bridge say they are outraged, and only found out about it when Rice's New Life Evangelistic Center put flyers in their mailboxes on Thursday.
"I don't want this going next to my house," said neighborhood resident Linda Lawrence, who lives next to the vacant lot. "This street is dark, there are children who live on this street. I'm worried about sanitation, and about drinking and drug use and mentally ill homeless people."
St. Louis County tax records show the vacant lot was given to the New Life Evangelistic Center last month. Rice says he plans to bring in the homeless in vans and buses Saturday morning, and plans a news conference at the site at 9am Saturday. Rice may end up hearing from neighbors who are upset.
"I feel terrible about this," said Thelma Neal, who is blind and lives two houses down from the proposed encampment. "I think it's ridiculous. I really don't want all their problems here."
St. Louis County officials met Friday afternoon to plan a response. County sources indicate St. Louis County Police, along with housing and health inspectors, will be on the scene when Rice and the homeless arrive. Any attempt to keep Rice from establishing an emcampment on the lot would be based on St. Louis County zoning codes. Zoning in the working class neighborhood of modest houses prohibits group homes in the area.
This is Rice's latest attempt to bring the homeless to the public's attention. He established a tent city on the Mississippi Riverfront north of downtown. Called Hopeville, it was demolished last year. This spring, he tried to establish an encampment on the city's south side, and was arrested.
Statement from County Executive Charlie Dooley:
“We have received calls of concern from residents in the area about the tent city and will make sure that it does not violate County ordinances,” said St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley. “Homelessness is a serious issue that St. Louis County works hard to solve and regularly meets with representatives from the New Life organization as well as other homeless agencies to help address this problem.”