Downtown residents see changes since NLEC closure, homeless feel pushed out

ST. LOUIS (KPLR) - Some downtown St. Louis residents say since the city shut down the New Life Evangelistic Center on Locust Street in early April, it feels like they've gotten their neighborhood back.

"Well for one thing we can walk without being intimidated, without having people fearful of people on drugs, people who are getting high, people who are erratic in behavior" said resident Laura Griffin.

"We can sleep at night without any of all of the yelling and screaming and the ambulances coming and going and to be quite honest with you- it's cleaner" she said.

"I couldn't bring my grandchildren to the library or to the park anymore. It was just infested with drug dealers and NLEC was the calling point for all of that" said Griffin.

The NLEC's Reverend Larry Rice doesn't agree that his shelter caused the problems that residents had.

"This was planned chaos and then they want to convince themselves that shutting us down and suddenly they can move in and ask them to move on" he said.  "They could have asked them to move on all along but they didn't.  So as a result, they wanted to make it look like we were the source of the problem when all we were doing were taking in 200 people off the streets who are now on the streets" he said.

Rice contends the city's actions in shutting down his shelter hasn't solved the issue of homelessness, it's only kicked the can into new neighborhoods.

"People are definitely hurting" he said.  "The out of sight out of mind mentality not in my backyard is directly hurting homeless people" he said.

Still residents like Griffin are hopeful this is all the start to long term help.

"This way, now, I feel like they're going to get the help that they truly need because I think for all of us, we don't want to see homeless people, I don't want to see homeless people, I want everybody to have a place to go" she said.

"Housing first is the right way to do it. Get people off the street, assess their need, get them into permanent housing and long term help. That's what the city's about and that's what all these residents are about and that's what we want" she said.