Police stop donations in front of St. Louis homeless shelter on Thanksgiving

ST. LOUIS, MO (KPLR) - St. Louis Police were ordered to stop people from making donations in front of the New Life Evangelistic Center to the homeless on Thanksgiving day. FOX 2's Elliott Davis was at the homeless shelter with his daughter on Thursday. He caught the scene on video and shared it to his official Facebook page. The clip has been shared over 2,000 times and seen by at least 250,000 people.

Representatives from St. Louis City says that they are not  "discouraging" donations.  They just don't want people dumping them on the sidewalk in front of the homeless shelter.  A statement says, "The City of St. Louis -- its Department of Human Services, Health Department and Police Department have been trying to assist individuals and organizations make donations in ways that are respectful to the neighborhood, that reach the intended recipients, that conform with basic public health and food safety requirements, and ensures thoughtful gifts are not be wasted."

The video begins with Davis showing one homeless woman sleeping on the curb in front of the shelter. The sidewalk is covered with the possessions of homeless people.

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Homeless woman sleeps in front of the shelter.  Bags of clothing and other items line the sidewalk near her.

There are "No Stopping" signs posted in front of the homeless shelter.

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Sign in front of the New Life Evangelistic Center

St. Louis police were enforcing the law on Thursday. Elliott Davis says that he saw them turn away people trying to make donations in front of the building.

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Police tell people trying to drop off donations in front of the shelter to turn around.

Elliott Davis wants to point out that the officers were just doing their jobs.  They are enforcing the laws that politicians put on the books.  He says the police could have been doing something more productive like patrolling high crime neighborhoods. More than a few of his Facebook fans agree:

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Eddie Roth, Director of the Department of Human Services for the City of St. Louis wrote this lengthy comment on Elliott Davis' Facebook post:

"The City of St. Louis is the undisputed champion of homeless rights in the St. Louis region. Every night, programs supported by the City of St. Louis provide housing or emergency shelter for more than 2,500 homeless or formerly homeless people. Every night. In 2015, only slightly more half of the persons who received homeless services identified the City of St. Louis as their county of last permanent residence. We try to help as many people as we can, without regard to where they are from.

NLEC meanwhile advertises itself as a "major walk-in shelter for the homeless in Mid-America." NLEC invites to St. Louis people who are homeless from distant points in the St. Louis region and beyond, but has no wherewithal or intention to provide them with sustained services. To the contrary, after 30 days of shelter, it puts people back on St. Louis' streets, contributing to shelter shortage, creating conditions that perpetuate homelessness, increase danger and vulnerability in this community.

Well more than 100 emergency medical runs by city police, firefighters and EMT's have been made in recent weeks to assist people at and around the NLEC facility felled by a poisonous synthetic drug known as K2. Is this a coincidence? Is this among the risks an agency creates when it enables drug sales and drug use by inviting and concentrating vulnerable people in one area, providing no professional staff, no meaningful supervision or organized protection from predators or ravages of substance dependence and abuse?

The City of St. Louis supports dozens of facilities in every part of the city that provide assistance to the homeless. Some in residential areas. Some in commercial areas. This is in addition to hundreds of scattered site apartments in neighborhoods across the city housing formerly homeless. They manage their facilities in ways that serve vulnerable people, invite volunteers, accept and receive donations, while being respectful to their neighbors.

NLEC is the marked exception.

The 1400 block of Locust is not just home to NLEC but it is where 500 or more 7th through 12th graders at Confluence Preparatory Academy go to school, It is the block next just to the west of the main St. Louis Public Library, which serves people from all walks of life. It is a block from a children's park.

To help maintain order and ensure everyone stays safe the city instituted a no parking or vehicle standing on the block. It applies to everyone, everyday. People visiting the library, seeking parking for Blues games, or wanting to bring things to NLEC are free to park on adjacent blocks. But because of problems in the area immediately around NLEC, most recently epidemic drug overdoses, the block is kept clear of parked or standing vehicles.

Well intentioned people nevertheless disregard the signs and park their vehicles. They quickly drop off food and clothing and the block -- and by "drop off" I mean literally dumping it on the sidewalk and street, and then drive off leaving it to the neighborhood to clean up the mess. These street "donations" thus are being carried out in ways that are not respectful to the community. The early Saturday convergence of multiple vehicles, for example, has created a free for all environment, with vehicles parking in the middle of the street, and leaving a big mess behind for the community to pick up. Clothing is abandoned in nearby parks. Food remains are littered across many blocks.
Including this Thanksgiving.

Far from "discouraging" donations, the City of St. Louis -- its Department of Human Services, Health Department and Police Department have been trying to assist individuals and organizations make donations in ways that are respectful to the neighborhood, that reach the intended recipients, that conform with basic public health and food safety requirements, and ensures thoughtful gifts are not be wasted.

The No Parking signs on the 1400 block of Locust provide a telephone number at the Department of Human Services from which can people interested in distributing food, clothing and personal items can get information and recommendations on how that can be accomplished by working with other organizations who serve people downtown and welcome donations but have permanent faculties to provide meals and distribute donated items.

Existing organizations, for example, already provide thousands of meals and each week, as well as clothing and personal items to people needing assistance in the downtown area. They would welcome these groups assistance. Here are some examples.
Gateway 180 – just north of downtown, is the principal emergency shelter for women and families. It has individual and group volunteering, including Operation Brown Bag, Fresh Start Program, and Serve a Meal.

Contact: Mary Eveker, Volunteer Coordinator, 314-899-5233 or meveker@gatewayhomeless.org

St. Patrick Center –has a wide variety of volunteer opportunities, including many relating to food service, among others. Contact: Michele Prevedel, Volunteer Specialist, 314-802-0681, or mprevedel@stpatrickcenter.org

St. Vincent de Paul – Catholic Parish, just south of downtown, has an active social ministry, including daily lunch program of longstanding for people on the street. http://www.stvstl.org/ Contact: Jim Votino, Volunteer Manager, 314-231-9328 (from 9am to 1pm) or 314-200-6853"

The New Life Evangelistic Center serves about 400 Thanksgiving dinners every year. More than 100 volunteers showed up to help serve the meals and distribute clothing donations. The clothes help the homeless cope with the winter weather.

The City of St. Louis ordered the shelter to close its doors earlier this month. They cite the lack of an occupancy permit. Officials say the Reverend Larry Rice is running the New Life Evangelistic Center illegally.

The City revoked the occupancy permit they had more than a year ago. Rev. Rice says he plans to fight the notice to cease and desist. Rice believes new downtown transplants and condo owners don't want the homeless there. He says 200 people stay at the center every night. Fifty people call it home. They've been living at the center and taking advantage of opportunities like the Two-Year Leadership Program.

When the city pulled the permit last year, Rice challenged it as a religious organization but he lost that battle in September.

There are other shelters, like the St. Patrick's Center,  in downtown St. Louis that offer the same services to the homeless.