New homeless camp draws fire from city, neighbors

5:16 PM, May 14, 2012   |    comments
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By Grant Bissell

St. Louis (KSDK) - A new homeless camp near I-44 and Vandeventer is moving forward. On Monday Reverend Larry Rice and his supporters dedicated the camp they've named Integrity Village. Rice plans to start moving people into the new camp on Wednesday.

But neighbors say they don't want it.

"They don't live here. So you put them in Reverend Rice's back yard, not our back yard," said Antionette Williams.

And the Botanical Heights Neighborhood Association says the idea is downright illegal.

"We don't think it would meet the laws that exist in terms of zoning, housing construction and code compliance," said board member Brent Crittenden.

St. Louis Public Safety Director Eddie Roth says the minute people start moving in, the city will be there to shut it down.

But Reverend Rice and his followers say they are determined to open Integrity Village.

"We want to be good neighbors," said Rice. "We don't want to see this go down like it did at the other place on the riverfront."

"I think it's a good thing that Reverend Rice is doing. It would be great to help out, make contributions and help us because we are humans too.

Rice says the new camp would be modeled after Dignity Village, a decade-old homeless encampment in Portland, Oregon. Residents there aren't allowed to use drugs or alcohol in the camp. They don't tolerate stealing or obnoxious behavior and everyone is required to contribute to the community.

Rice says the residents of his camp would be screened and the New Life Evangelistic Center would be responsible for maintaining the grounds and providing shower & restroom facilities.

But Karen Wallensak of Catholic Charities Community Cervices says this type of generosity is misguided and can actually hurt the people it's meant to help.

"If I have food served to me every day why would I be motivated to try to go out and find income so that I could feed myself or learn to feed myself?" said Wallensak. "I think inadvertently sometimes people end up helping people stay homeless."

Wallensak says the only answer to homelessness is permanent housing, not a tent city. Meanwhile, the city's public safety director says Integrity Village does not and will not have the proper permits and there are no exemptions for religious organizations.

The city encourages anyone who wants to help the homeless to donate to the local United Way or St. Patrick Center.


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