- Associated Press - Tuesday, October 21, 2014

ST. LOUIS (AP) - The city of St. Louis has postponed a decision on the potential closure of a downtown homeless shelter that’s facing complaints from neighboring property owners.

After more than one year of intermittent hearings, the city Board of Public Service met Tuesday afternoon and was expected to rule on the request to shut down the Rev. Larry Rice’s New Life Evangelistic Center.

The shelter has been in operation for more than four decades and is located across the street from Central Library, headquarters of the St. Louis public library system. Developers of an adjacent apartment complex and downtown residents and business owners are among the roughly 150 people who have signed a petition asking the city to revoke the shelter’s hotel license, citing problems such as petty crime, harassment, public urination and drug use they blame on residents.

But the group of city department heads delayed taking a vote Tuesday at the request of Mayor Francis Slay’s office. In a letter to the board, Slay chief of staff Jeff Rainford asked to pull the request so that “efforts to resolve the dispute can be exhausted.”

Rice, a longtime community activist who has successfully fought previous efforts to shutter the shelter, has said he will fight the city in federal court should New Life lose its license. After the brief hearing, he challenged Slay and his suburban counterparts to devote more government resources to serve the homeless, including in outlying parts of St. Louis and St. Charles counties.

“We’re willing to sit down and talk,” he said. “But we don’t want it at the expense of more people sleeping on the streets.”

The shelter is located near the Washington Avenue loft district, a once-distressed part of the city that is now a popular nightlife destination as well as a sought-after location for young professionals attracted by the proximity to downtown.

Elkin Kister, an attorney for the shelter opponents, said his group’s leaders are “open to compromise.”


Follow Alan Scher Zagier on Twitter at https://twitter.com/azagier

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