Downtown residents want city to revoke permit for homeless shelter

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ST. LOUIS, MO (KTVI)-- Most people would probably not think of the New Life Evangelistic Center in downtown St. Louis as a hotel, but that's the kind of permit Reverend Larry Rice needs to run his shelter, which is why some downtown residents who want to see it closed are asking the city`s Board of Public Service to revoke it.

Rice brought a busload of supporters to city hall to fill the hearing room as the board begins looking at whether the New Life Evangelistic Center is in violation of the city`s hotel permit law.

The hearing, being held as the result of a petition from the majority of residents living within 408 feet of the center,  began with testimony from a St. Louis police officer who said he has responded to fights at the center, seen drug deals there, along with shelter residents drinking and urinating in public--- all things that are grounds for revoking a hotel permit under the law.

Among those residents testifying was a woman who wants to remain anonymous because she says she was the victim of an assault by one of the shelter`s residents.

"I walk downtown, and the last two blocks from where I work to home are the scariest in the entire downtown area and I live just down the street from New Life," she said. "It is not acceptable anymore."

But Tom Ely, 64, a New Life shelter resident since July says he doesn`t believe fear of the homeless is why neighbors want to see it closed.

"It`s an eyesore, they don`t like all the homeless people being around, it is bad for business," Ely said.

When asked if he agreed, he said, "it probably is a little bad for business, but these people have to go somewhere."

This hearing is conducted like a trial, with lawyers from both sides calling and questioning witnesses--- so many it`s expected to take two more hearings to get through all the evidence before the board reviews the testimony and makes its decision.

Rice's lawyer, Todd Lubben argues that while New Life has a hotel permit, it should not be governed by hotel rules because people don't pay to stay there, and that closing it would be a violation of Rev. Rice's constitutional right to a free exercise of religion.