ST. LOUIS, MO (KTVI)-- A battle is brewing between the City of St. Louis and one of the area’s best known homeless advocates. At issue, a proposal to construct a tent city for the homeless just off Interstate 44 at Vandeventer. City officials vow they won’t allow it, while the New Life Evangelistic Center is preparing a legal strategy to fight them.
This all comes as the city is in the process of leveling a string of homeless encampments along the riverfront just north of downtown. City officials call it an experiment that failed horribly.
“The experience we had here really taught us a lesson in a sense,” city human services director Bill Siedhoff said, walking alongside the remains of the “Hopeville” encampment. “Trying to do a situation like we were having, conditions like this, it’s just not workable. It presented a dangerous situation. We had fires here. We had a stabbing death.”
City officials have been relocating those residents, claiming more than fifty have been put in permanent homes. But the New Life Evangelistic Center says not enough people’s needs are being addressed. Now they’ve leased the land off Vandeventer and intend to put up tents.
They want to help those, “with a common need for a place to live,” Rev. Ray Redlich told us. “Trying to make a better life for themselves. It’s not intended as a permanent dwelling, in other words they will not live there permanently, but it’s a temporary place for people who need a little bit longer than they would have at the typical shelter.”
City officials sound almost shocked, saying the NLEC is well aware of the problems along the river.
“Why in the world would you even think about replicating a tent city?” Siedhoff asked. “ An outdoor place where, basically conditions here were very unsafe. Unsanitary. Basically it proved to be a very inhumane place to live.”
He goes on to say the city won’t stand for the new camp.
“That is absolutely unnecessary. It’s unlawful, and it’s never gonna happen in the city of St. Louis.”
But Redlich says the NLEC has other plans. They believe they can use their status as a church to circumvent city regulations.
“We are working with an attorney that specializes in federal law as it relates to churches and their right to use land for their intended worship services,” Redlich said.
In other words, with NLEC and Rev. Larry Rice planning a news conference to announce their plans Monday, the two sides are gearing up for a fight. It’s a fight in which both insist they are right.
Redlich says the city isn’t doing enough.
”We’re not saying these programs are not good, they’re good programs, but their need is not being fully met. They’re in a state of denial as to the need for shelter.
And city officials say they’re the ones giving homeless people the best chance at a future.
“The design is to get people their own place to live. And that’s what we’re doing. And that’s what we’ll continue to do with people who become homeless in the future,” Siedhoff told us, “People in this day and age should not have to live outdoors.”