ST. LOUIS -- Following nearly four years of efforts to work with New Life Evangelistic Center, Inc. (NLEC) to provide a safe environment for its guests, the 22nd Circuit Court has ruled that the City of St. Louis may enforce its Cease & Desist of NLEC, requiring it to comply with City ordinances and obtain an occupancy permit, or end its unpermitted operations. That deadline, set forth by the Board of Building Appeals at its January 12, 2017, hearing is April 1, 2017.
NLEC has been operating since May 12, 2015, without any permit of any kind to occupy the property at 1411 Locust for any purpose. Several resolution efforts between NLEC and neighbors, as well as those between NLEC and the City have been unsuccessful.
NLEC has been declared a detriment to its neighborhood, has been found to be operating in violation of its original permit, has lost its appeals, and has not sought to complete requirements for new permits, despite considerable grace periods offered by the City to assist NLEC to become compliant with the law.
Furthermore, NLEC has refused repeated offers to join the robust Continuum of Care, a network of 70 service providers that administer services, housing, and most of all dignity for people experiencing homelessness.
The City of St. Louis is the region's undisputed champion of homeless rights and hospitality. It stands at the center of the coalition -- helping members assist one another, and improve and achieve higher standards of service for the homeless, including providing safe, clean, well-managed, lower-density facilities that are good neighbors and are accountable to the public.
That is evident in the new $2.5 million City owned and maintained service center, which is providing wrap-around services, respite, a hot meal and emergency shelter 24/7. As the region's first such facility, Biddle Housing Opportunities Center, operated by St. Patrick Center and Peter &Paul Community Services, is helping to bring people who are homeless off the street and move them quickly into stability and permanent housing.
Biddle will serve as the processing center for those leaving NLEC's unpermitted shelter, and the City's Department of Human Services and its partners will continue to provide overnight shelter for people who are homeless.
"There are rules and regulations in this City designed to protect public health and keep everyone safe," said Eddie Roth, Director of Human Services. "We are disappointed that despite every effort to work with NLEC, Rev. Larry Rice has refused to follow the law. If NLEC truly believes in helping those experiencing homelessness, it will assist the City and its partners in an orderly transition in the closure of its operations."
Director Roth added that St. Louis has dozens of facilities in all parts of the City that provide for the needs of homeless men and women and people at risk of becoming homeless. They supply more than 1,200 beds of emergency shelter and transitional housing. They move clients on the road to permanent housing, and hire professional staff to help people with complex needs, like mental illness and substance abuse. They work together to keep people safe and to treat them with dignity.
"These providers grant exemplary service while maintaining good relations and solid reputations in the neighborhoods in which they are situated," Roth said. "They have had no trouble following the law. If NLEC wants to operate a shelter with a greater number of beds, it can work with his neighbors and the homeless service community, apply for a shelter permit, and satisfy the minimum legal requirements relating to occupancy, safety, health and hygiene – just as other faith groups or nonprofits do."
In keeping with the Circuit Court ruling, NLEC must cease operations by the end of the day April 1, 2017, with that being the last night of overnight service. People seeking shelter must go to Biddle Housing Opportunities Center at 1313 N. Tucker St. to go through the in-take process in order to be shuttled and admitted to additional shelter established at 1415 N. 13th St. for men and 12th and Park Recreation Center for women (no walk-ins accepted).
The following is a timeline of events that have led to NLEC's closure:
1976: New Life Evangelistic Center, Inc. (NLEC) obtained a hotel permit with an occupancy limit of 32 beds. In 1976, the hotel permit was the City Code equivalent of an occupancy permit for a homeless shelter. The Code has since been amended to contain specific provisions for shelter permits.
NLEC claims to house as many as 325 a night in its shelter, located at 1411 Locust.
April 26, 2013: A majority of the property owners and residents around NLEC petitioned the Board of Public Service (BPS) to revoke the hotel license on grounds that the shelter is a detriment to the neighborhood. The petition cited public urination and defecation, public sex acts, fights, and drug dealing, among other nuisance behavior.
The Board of Public Service consists of the BPS president and the directors of the departments of Streets, Parks, Public Utilities, Health, Human Services and Public Safety.
September 24, 2013 - April 1, 2014: BPS convened a formal hearing that occurred over the course of nine hearing days between these dates.
Before BPS issued its decision, the mayor asked that NLEC and its neighbors attempt to negotiate a resolution. The City attempted to facilitate the negotiations, which included a meeting of all parties on December 10, 2014. However, NLEC would not agree to any reduction in the number of shelter occupants, nor would NLEC agree to any cap on its occupancy level. NLEC also did not take action to abate nuisance conditions during that time.
BPS delayed its decision while the settlement efforts were made.
January 1, 2014 - Present: The Department of Health has confirmed 11 cases of bed bugs within NLEC. Although NLEC claims to recently have hired a pest removal contractor, NLEC refuses to adjust its basic intake procedures in order to prevent future infestations. The most recent instance was March 10, 2017.
December 23, 2014: BPS unanimously found that NLEC's shelter constitutes a detriment to its neighborhood because there is a "high degree of correspondence" between the large number of people who frequent the shelter and those who commit crimes and offensive acts in the neighborhood, including drug users and dealers, fighting, public sex acts, public urination and public defecation, among other things.
BPS voted to revoke NLEC's occupancy permit but allowed NLEC a considerable grace period extending to May 12, 2015, to either:
(i) come into compliance with the 32-bed occupancy limit required by its then-existing hotel/occupancy permit prior to May 12, 2015;or
(ii) obtain a new permit prior to May 12, 2015, to operate the shelter in accordance with the applicable laws, rules and regulations of the City.
NLEC did not take advantage of the grace period and did not attempt either of the BPS options prior to the May 12, 2015, deadline.
NLEC also did not appeal the BPS decision.
NLEC's occupancy permit was therefore revoked, effective May 12, 2015.
December 24, 2014: Human Services Director Eddie Roth invited NLEC to participate with the Continuum of Care and become a professional, collaborative participant in the City's homeless service system. To date, NLEC has not joined the Continuum of Care.
March 2015: Instead, NLEC filed a federal lawsuit, contending that it was not subject to the City's permitting procedures. (See below -- decision to dismiss lawsuit issued October 27, 2015).
City of St. Louis established a 125-bed emergency overnight shelter for up to 125 single men (increased to 185 on cold winter weather nights) at 12th and Park Recreation Center, providing daily bus service to and from 12th and Park overnight shelter and The Bridge day shelter.
June 1, 2015: The City and NLEC engaged in court-ordered mediation in an effort to resolve the dispute around the shelter's operations and lack of proper permits. Mediation efforts were unsuccessful.
July 29, 2015: While the federal lawsuit was still pending, NLEC filed a new application for a homeless shelter permit.
July - September 2015: The City's Director of Operations Todd Waelterman made multiple visits to NLEC in an effort to accomplish a resolution. The effort was unsuccessful.
September 10, 2015: Forty-three (43) days after NLEC applied for a permit, it requested an exemption from the City's Plat &Petition process that is required for all homeless shelter permit applicants. NLEC also requested an exemption from the City's school spacing requirement, which prohibits shelters within 500 feet of a school.
September 15, 2015: Building Commissioner Frank Oswald asked NLEC for additional information for its exemption request, including how many people NLEC proposed to house in its shelter.
October 26, 2015: NLEC provided Oswald with the additional information Oswald requested, including its proposed occupancy, reposing that the shelter by allowed to have an occupancy as high as 325.
October 27, 2015: The Federal Court ruled in favor of the City and dismissed NLEC's lawsuit, which had been filed in March 2015.
December 9, 2015: Oswald denied NLEC's request to be exempted from the Plat &Petition requirement, which resulted in the appeal to the Board of Building Appeals. Oswald also denied NLEC's request for exemption from the school spacing requirement, and advised via letter that NLEC's permit requests for other uses at the property, including a worship area, television studio, and offices, could still be processed. Oswald asked in the letter for NLEC to advise him if it wished to proceed with those permits. To date (October 18, 2016),NLEC has not responded nor has it made any efforts to pursue those permits. Only the shelter permit is subject to the Plat &Petition or school spacing requirement.
January 7, 2016: NLEC filed an appeal of Oswald's decision to deny the exemption of Plat &Petition and school spacing requirements with the Board of Building Appeals.
was built by the City of St. Louis in the early 1930s as a public market and continuously has been owned by the City.
March 10 - August 4, 2016:The Board of Building Appeals conducted seven days of hearings over five months.
April 2016: Renovation work to transform Biddle into a 24-hour housing service center and daytime shelter began. The $2.5 million, municipally-funded project was built to serve hundreds of men and women with meals, showers, services and respite from6 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily and provide overnight shelter for 96 single men. Biddle was designed with commercial grade laundry and kitchen, clinical offices, classroom space, and covered outdoor assembly area.
The Bridge Outreach day shelter closed in anticipation of Biddle opening. Compton Hill Baptist Church served as the temporary day shelter.
August 8, 2016: The Biddle Housing Opportunities Center, operated by St. Patrick Center and Peter &Paul Community Services, opened to the public to provide wrap-around services to people experiencing homelessness. Overnight shelter operations began on August 22, 2016, at which time the City ceased operations of overnight shelter at 12th and Park Recreation Center.
September 2016: The City of St. Louis issued a Request for Proposals for consulting services and technical assistance for an unprecedented regional planning process for homeless services. The process set to begin in January 2017 with $335,000 funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The Continuum of Care serving the City of St. Louis, St. Louis County, St. Charles/Lincoln/Warren Counties, St. Clair County, IL, and Madison County, IL have agreed to participate. The United Way of Greater St. Louis has agreed to support the process with $50,000 in-kind services.
September 1, 2016: The Board of Building Appeals issued its final written decision to NLEC, granting an exemption from the school spacing requirement but affirming the Plat &Petition requirement for seeking to operate a homeless shelter.
September 30, 2016: NLEC filed with the State Circuit Court a Petition for Review of the Board of Building Appeals' final written decision.
This is the last action taken by NLEC at the municipal, state or federal level.
November 9, 2016: The City's Building Division issued a Cease &Desist letter to NLEC for operating without any occupancy permits.
November 2016: The City of St. Louis secured a $1 million renewable federal grant to rapidly re-house people experiencing homelessness by accelerating the transition of persons moving from the street to permanent, supportive housing, which will shorten stays and free capacity in emergency overnight shelter at Biddle Housing Opportunities Center.
December 9, 2016: NLEC appealed the Cease &Desist letter to the City's Board of Building Appeals.
December 21, 2016: NLEC requested, and the Building Commissioner agreed, to process separate out the occupancy permit applications for a television studio, religious worship area, food pantry, office space, meeting rooms and library, and clothing distribution center.
January 11, 2017: Following a January 4, 2017, inspection, Building Commissioner Oswald denied NLEC's nonshelter permit applications, citing NLEC's continued unlawful operation of an unpermitted homeless shelter, along with multiple code violations, including those cited in 2015. NLEC's shelter permit application remains pending while it attempts to gather petition signatures as required by City Code.
January 12, 2017: The Board of Building Appeals unanimously voted to deny NLEC's appeal of the Building Commissioner's Cease and Desist order. However, the Board voted to delay enforcement until April 1, 2017, giving NLEC time to wrap up its operations.
NLEC filed another lawsuit to contest this decision.
March 23, 2017: The City filed a counterclaim in the Cease and Desist lawsuit, seeking to enjoin NLEC from occupying and using its property, because NLEC has no occupancy permit for the building, many violations of health and safety code requirements, a bed bug infestation, and an encampment and drug overdose epidemic outside its front door, among other things.
March 24, 2017: NLEC's motion to stay (i.e., enjoin) the April 1, 2017, Cease and Desist date was argued in court, with testimony and evidence.
March 30, 2017: Circuit Court Judge denied NLEC's motion, allowing the City to enforce its Cease and Desist order on April 1, 2017.
Resolution efforts between NLEC and neighbors, as well as those between NLEC and the City, have been unsuccessful. NLEC has been operating since May 12, 2015, without any permit of any kind to occupy the property at 1411 Locust for any purpose. Until the Building Commissioner issued the Cease and Desist order, NLEC had made no progress with its occupancy applications submitted to the Building Division for the purposes of a television studio, religious worship area, food pantry, office space, meeting rooms and library, and clothing distribution center -- none of which require Plat &Petition process.