Homeless Camp Dispute Takes Center Stage At City Hall | News
ST. LOUIS, MO (KTVI) – Even before Rev. Larry Rice pushed the issue of a tent city for the homeless by building one, St. Louis aldermen on the Health and Human Services committee had already been thinking about reviewing the city’s homeless programs.
Now, with residents upset by Rice’s attempt to build “Integrity Village” near their homes, the committee chairman decided a good time to have a hearing is now.
Rice leased a wedge of land near Interstate 44 and Vandeventer in South St. Louis and began building his tent city earlier this month. But it was immediately condemned by the city.
“I believe a tent community meets a need,” Rice testified before the committee, adding, “it is not going to solve all the problems.”
Rice announced his decision to go ahead with “Integrity Village” soon after the City of St. Louis began tearing down three other tent cities along an industrial section of the riverfront. The city claimed the encampment was unsafe and unsanitary, and that it could use federal funds to relocate the homeless who had been living there.
But Rice had a warning for the committee.
“What has happened with the destruction of the riverfront communities, you drive in downtown St. Louis and you will see more and more people sleeping outside.”
Rice was accompanied at the hearing by more than 20 residents of the New Life Evangelistic Center, some of who testified, including Anita West, who has been homeless for five years.
“A tent city is better than sleeping on the ground or in a vacant building so I don`t know what the problem is, she said.
City officials say a new tent city is not needed because all 64 of the homeless who had been living in the old tent cities along the river, all have already been placed in some type of housing, though some of it is at a hotel, and that there are still federal funds available to place even more.
“The City of St. Louis, in my opinion, is on the verge of ending chronic homelessness and that is definitely our goal,” said Antoinette Triplett, homeless services manager for the City of St. Louis.
After two and a half hours of testimony, the alderman who requested the hearing says she still wants more information.
“I think it is something that we still need to look into, we need to research,” said 6th ward alderman Kacie Starr Triplett, who shares a last name, but is not related to the homeless services manager.
But 8th ward alderman Steve Conway, chairman of the Health and Human Service Committee says he does not want to see a tent city built at that location.
“I`m not convinced that we need to have a tent city anywhere in the city. The prior one had 68. Seventy percent of them weren`t even from St. Louis,” said Conway, who suggested Rice was using “Integrity Village” as leverage to get the city to donate an acre of land for a tent city someplace else, an idea Rice has been floating for some time.
In the meantime, Rice says he is planning a public relations offensive next week in the residential area near the “Integrity Village” site, trying to calm neighbors fears, even through the city has already condemned it once.
Rice says he may sue to get the city’s condemnation overturned.
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