ST. LOUIS -- The City of St. Louis has delivered a letter to New Life Evangelistic Center (NLEC) denying its request for exemptions from City Code requirements that apply to homeless shelter operators.
Specifically, NLEC seeks to house 250 to 325 people in its shelter at 1411 Locust in Downtown St. Louis. To do so, it has asked to (1) be exempted from operating near a school (Confluence Academy), and (2) be exempted from following the City's plat and petition process, which requires shelter operators to obtain approval from a majority of neighbors.
These Code requirements, which apply to all homeless shelters, are designed to protect the public by controlling harmful effects on a neighborhood that might be caused by a shelter. NLEC sought exemption as a "church."
Last December, the Board of Public Service (BPS) determined that NLEC's operations have caused a wide array of problems for its neighborhood, including drug use, drug transactions, fighting, public urination, defecation, loitering and public drunkenness. BPS also determined that NLEC does not cooperate with police and neighborhood efforts to improve conditions around the NLEC building, nor does it abide by its occupancy permit. Although NLEC's original permit limited occupancy to 32 people, NLEC routinely allows as many as 325 people in its shelter. NLEC did not appeal nor contest the BPS findings.
In denying NLEC's exemption request, Building Commissioner Frank Oswald noted that, "NLEC proposes no reduction in the number of people that it plans to house in its shelter, nor does it appear that operational changes have been implemented to mitigate [NLEC's] the detriment to the neighborhood." NLEC previously filed suit against the City, claiming that it was not subject to the City's normal permitting processes. That lawsuit was dismissed by the Circuit Court, and NLEC is now pursuing its application.
"NLEC requested waivers that would enable it to continue business as usual," Interim City Counselor Michael Garvin said. "The code provisions apply to all operators of homeless shelters. It's clear that the Building Commissioner did not want to grant exemptions from Code requirements to NLEC absent changes that would mitigate the long list problems linked to NLEC's shelter."
The Building Commissioner's decision regarding NLEC's exemption requests does not impact NLEC's other occupancy permit applications for religious assembly on the first floor of the premises, television studio operations, or business offices. No exemptions are needed to proceed with those.
As the City of St. Louis builds a new system of emergency shelter that starts with safe, clean, well-managed, lower-density facilities that are good neighbors and are accountable to the public, the City's Department of Human Services and its partners continue to provide overnight shelter for men, women and children who are homeless. The City also will open a day shelter at 1520 Market Street by the end of the month.