In 2008, a 35-year-old father of one moved from an affluent Saint Louis suburb to a neighborhood in the city full of new developments, marketed as fashionable and up-and-coming.
Shortly after moving in, he met some neighbors several blocks away who did not appeal to him: Rev. Larry Rice and the New Life Evangelistic Center, a private shelter and mission that had housed, educated, and fed homeless men and women in Saint Louis for over forty years.
Andy Martello, the new and disgruntled neighbor, noticed that some homeless residents from the shelter would end up in the local park during the day, and believed that this contributed to making the park “too dirty.” So Martello took matters into his own hands—or rather, passed them on to the Saint Louis Board of Public Service, complaining about the shelter and citing a little-known city code that allows residents to petition for the revocation of a permit of any kind of lodging that becomes a “detriment to the neighborhood.”
This accusation of “detriment” included complaints about church groups, independent of but inspired by Rice, coming to the park on Sundays to feed the homeless there.
“It’s like a tailgating party for the religious,” complained another newcomer who allied with Martello in 2008, a surgeon who describes herself as “affluent and independent,” and says that she bought into the neighborhood’s marketing efforts to “revitalize the city.”
Rice had a different take on the situation.
"Caring people don't move into a neighborhood and then circulate a petition to drive out the people who already live there," he commented at the time.
As revitalization initiatives take off, the effects of gentrification on cities’ homeless charities are becoming greater and more complicated. Gentrification not only increases the number of homeless residents as affordable housing in cities dwindles, but it resists the presence of the insufficiently chic efforts to house these homeless residents. And, again and again, these fights are fought with the aid of those cities’ governments and the web of regulations and codes available to the newcomers and marketers who look to profit off them.
After Martello’s petition to the Board of Public Service in 2008, New Life and Rev. Rice became entangled in a long legal battle which threatened to kick the 225-250 men and women who slept in Rice’s shelter every night, participated in day-time educational programs and employment, and received food, to the streets. Rice claims that he felt overwhelmed by and intentionally mischaracterized by the city and its endless regulations.
“Every time I turn something in they say they want something else,” Rice said “The city doesn’t want us to look like we’re compliant in these issues.”
In 2015 the shelter’s occupancy permit was revoked, and Rev. Rice sued the city of Saint Louis in response, citing his and his church’s religious duty to serve the poor and less fortunate members of society.
This case, unsurprisingly, did not change anyone’s mind, and this March a Saint Louis judge turned down Rice’s appeal, and, after a decade of fighting, he finally complied. On April 2nd, the shelter turned out its residents and closed its doors.
Saint Louis Mayor Francis Slay dismissed concerns by announcing the following day that the city of Saint Louis would be opening new shelters with occupancies equivalent to Rice’s shelter. The work to which Rice has dedicated his entire life is, Slay seems to suggest, good, but not really his job. The homeless will be better managed and less of an obstruction in the hands of the government: and the city will enforce this.
This photo originally appeared in a November 2016 Riverfront Times article.