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Readers: Limiting NLEC to 32 Beds is Fair, Alternatives Exist

A week ago today the city’s Board of Adjustment ruled the New Life Evangelistic Center homeless shelter must 1) limit beds to the licensed 32 beds 2) seek a new license that would allow more emergency beds or 3) close. Larry Rice, however, wants to continue as he has been — stuffing far more people into a rundown facility after coercing them to do lots of free labor.

NLEC last week, just hours before the decision. The building was originally a YWCA.
NLEC last week, just hours before the decision. The building was originally a YWCA.

Here are the results from Sunday’s poll:

Q: Thoughts on the city calling Larry Rice’s NLEC a “nuisance”? (pick up to two)

  1. TIE:
    1. Limiting the licensed occupancy to 32 beds is fair, considering the conditions. 28 [25.69%]
    2. There are other/better alternatives to NLEC available. 28 [25.69%]
  2. Rice’s TV televangelism empire depends on a large visible homeless population 18 [16.51%]
  3. NLEC was there before the condos & apartments 15 [13.76%]
  4. Where will the homeless sleep if NLEC is limited to 32 beds? 10 [9.17%]
  5. NLEC should be able to sleep 300, or more, if they want 3 [2.75%]
  6. Other: 3 [2.75%]
    1. If NLEC had better job training and mental service, open all day Add as a poll answer
    2. it’s high time for NLEC to cease and desist. It’s not a church but a flop house
    3. It and he are nuisances.
  7. NLEC is a religious facility, no government license should be required. 2 [1.83%]

The #2 answer is closest to the truth — Rice desperately needs to maintain the exterior appearance of lots of homeless. Without a visible homeless population he doesn’t have a hook to get donations.

In 2009, court documents estimated New Life has assets between $40 million and $50 million, including radio and television stations. In 2008, the center reported receiving more than $1.8 million in cash contributions. (stltoday.com)

I can assure you other non-profits do more for the homeless with a fraction of the total assets, social workers & researchers are now realizing there is a much more effective & humane way to help the homeless than how Rice has operated NLEC for nearly 40 years:

  • Permanent housing, not a hard cot in a room crowded with hundreds of men
  • Hot meals prepared by a trained chef in an inspected kitchen, not sandwiches out of a trunk on the street
  • Social workers & occupational therapists to find & resolve problems, not free labor & religion
  • Secure places to store belongings, not encouraged to carry bags to increase visibility
  • Daytime space & activities, not being out on the street for 12 hours.
  • Security inside & outside during operations, not ignoring everything that happens just outside.

In these examples the former is how other agencies in St. Louis are trying to end/reduce homelessness, the latter is how Rice maintains the visible problem that keeps millions in coming in. I don’t expect this to be over in May, Rice will fight to maintain his status quo.  He misses the old days of vacant warehouses, lack of restaurants, jobs and any sort of measurable economic activity downtown.

— Steve Patterson


Sunday Poll: Thoughts on the city calling Larry Rice’s NLEC a “nuisance”?

Please vote in the poll, located in the right sidebar
Please vote in the poll, located in the right sidebar

Tuesday afternoon the city’s Board of Adjustment, after of 12+ months of hearings on a citizen petition, concluded Larry Rice’s New Life Evangelistic Center (NLEC) was a nuisance:

A city board ruled Tuesday that Rev. Larry Rice’s homeless shelter downtown is a nuisance and will be closed effective May 12, 2015, unless he complies with city terms.

Rice’s occupancy permit allows him to have a maximum of 32 beds. Many nights, Rice allows upwards of 300 people to stay in the shelter. (stltoday.com)

A perfect subject for the final poll of 2014: Thoughts on the city calling Larry Rice’s NLEC a “nuisance”? The poll is in the right sidebar, vote until 8pm.

I have thoughts on this, but I’ll save my views for Tuesday when I post the results.

— Steve Patterson


Housing For Homeless Veterans Nearing Completion At 4011 Delmar

I February 2010 I posted I would live at 4005 Delmar, then a vacant & boarded building, I was dreaming of it being renovated.

Boarded storefronts at sidewalk level
Boarded storefronts at sidewalk level, February 2010

The building at 4005-4011 Delmar has since attracted the attention of a developer, who also dreams:

We believe being a dreamer is every bit as important as being a do’er. In our personal and our professional lives, the members of The Vecino Group are dedicated to imagining a better world and then working to make it happen. 

I too agree it is important to dream, I’ve shared mine here for over 9 years.

Last year:

A housing developer from Springfield, Mo., has embarked on a $12.7 million project to renovate the building as 68 affordable apartments for homeless vets. The five-story building, at 4011 Delmar Boulevard, is in the city’s Vandeventer neighborhood, about three blocks from the John Cochran VA Medical Center.

Plans call for the building, named Freedom Place by the developer, to be redone as 20 studio apartments, 24 one-bedroom units, 16 two-bedroom units and eight three-bedroom units. Monthly rents are scheduled to range from $369 to $640. (stltoday)

According to city records, the building had 100 one-bedroom apartments and three “other” units. Hopefully the new mix of units will work well.

I pass by this project on the #97 MetroBus, but recently I was in the area photographing for my post on the North Sarah Apartments so I got a closer look at the progress.

New windows greatly improve the appearance
New windows greatly improve the appearance

I’m curious to see how the ground-level will be used. Will a neighborhood coffeehouse be able to open?  A small local market perhaps? The area desperately needs economic activity to create jobs for the veterans that will live here, as well as others.

Directly across the street a 1945 commercial building is vacant. With its side parking lot this could be a good market.
Directly across the street a 1945 commercial building is vacant. With its side parking lot this could be a good market for the area.
At 4035 the later commercial store front in from of a 19th century house has collapsed.
At 4035 a commercial storefront  addition in from of a 19th century house has collapsed.

Housing for these vets is huge, but we must also finds ways to rebuild the local economic base to create jobs. One local effort is Bridge Bread:

Bridge Bread is a social entrepreneurship initiative designed to provide job opportunities for guests of The Bridge. The goal of the initiative is to help disadvantaged guests engage in a financially rewarding effort that enhances self-worth, promotes dignity and enables the guests to help themselves.

It takes much more than a shelter cot to rebuild the lives of the homeless. Kudos to the people behind The Vecino Group!

— Steve Patterson


An Update on Lucas Park

The land that’s now Lucas Park was given to St. Louis by the Lucas family in the 1850s. Read about Lucas Place, now Locust, and Lucas Park here. In the last couple of decades the park became the gather place for the homeless downtown. For a couple of years the park has been closed as it undergoes a much-needed refresh. Slowly the park has been opening up again.

Lucas Park yesterday
Lucas Park yesterday, the former center fountain is now filled in with lawn grass
Temporary fencing remains up to allow the grass and perennials to get well established
Temporary fencing remains up to allow the grass and perennials to get well established
At the west end a former playground now has exercise equipment.
At the west end a former playground now has exercise equipment. I’ve yet to see this get used.
The east end has new children's playground equipment
The east end has new children’s playground equipment, the playground is frequently used.
Belongings of the homeless surround the park at the base of the construction fence.
Belongings of the homeless surround the park at the base of the construction fence.

Old habits don’t die easily. 

— Steve Patterson


Readers Split on Giving the Chronically Homeless Apartments

February 26, 2014 Featured, Homeless, Sunday Poll 7 Comments

My views towards homelessness have changed over the years; I wasn’t a supporter of the “housing first” model, it didn’t make sense to me. Now, after looking into it with an open mind, I see it is very logical. We know from decades of experience that how we’ve been attempting to address the issue of chronic homelessness hasn’t worked, requiring the chronic homeless to jump through hoops doesn’t work. and is costly and detrimental to the community at large. A different approach is needed.

Enter the housing first approach advocated nationally by  100,000 Homes. Their manifesto has four elements:

Housing First:

For years, homeless service providers worked to offer medical and mental health care, addiction counseling, job training and countless other services to people living on the streets. Most homeless people were told they had to earn their way to permanent housing by checking these supplementary boxes.

While the intentions behind this approach were good, the unfortunate result was that very few people ever escaped the streets.

100,000 Homes communities believe this traditional approach is backwards, and the data agrees with them. Countless studies have now shown that we must offer housing first, not last, if we want to help people out of homelessness. An immediate connection to permanent supportive housing can ensure that over 80% of homeless individuals remain housed, even among clients with severe substance abuse and mental health conditions. (read more)

Know Who’s Out There:

Person-specific data is the key to ending homelessness for our most vulnerable (and often anonymous) homeless neighbors.

100,000 Homes communities identify their homeless neighbors by name through an event called a Registry Week, the organizing backbone of the 100,000 Homes Campaign. The Registry Week process is based on a simple idea: communities should work to identify their most vulnerable or at-risk homeless residents and prioritize them for permanent housing. Medical research published in highly regarded, peer-reviewed journals highlights several health and social conditions that make people more likely to die on the streets. We’ve created a survey tool, the Vulnerability Index, that screens for those conditions and helps communities identify the most vulnerable people in their midst.

After an extensive volunteer training, Registry Week volunteers comb the streets of their communities block by block to ask as many people as possible to complete the Vulnerability Index questionnaire. This process occurs early in the morning, usually between the hours of 4 and 7 a.m. to ensure that those surveyed are among the unsheltered homeless population. Unsheltered individuals and families tend to reflect those who are not seeking or engaging with local service systems independently, and thus, those who are most likely to remain unhoused without proactive assistance. (read more)

Track Your Progress:

Solving a problem is impossible without a broad-based team and a reliable way of measuring success. Without regular performance data, we have no way of knowing whether or not the methods that communities are employing to end homelessness are working. That’s why 100,000 Homes communities commit to reporting their housing progress monthly and measuring that performance against clear and carefully determined benchmarks.

Each month, local advocates report the total number of people they have housed to the 100,000 Homes data team which uses that information to prepare detailed, individually tailored performance reports for each community enrolled in the Campaign. These reports outline a community’s progress toward its goal of ending homelessness and compare its efforts to the performance of similarly sized and resourced communities around the country.

When communities report consistently for three months in a row, they are placed on the 100,000 Homes Fully Committed List, a list regularly shared with national funders and media representatives in an effort to highly communities who are committed to using data to improve performance. (read more)

Improve Local Systems:

In most cases, the solution to homelessness is apparent– it’s implementing that solution that often proves challenging. This is because most communities have no clear, intentionally developed process for moving homeless people from the streets to permanent housing quickly and efficiently. Typically, different local agencies and organizations own different pieces of the housing process and rarely communicate with one another. These various groups require redundant forms, applications, and interview steps and often fail to process these requirements in a regular or timely way. As a result, it often takes more than a year to move a single individual from homelessness to a home, even with sustainable funding in place.

100,000 Homes communities are committed to pulling together their multiple overlapping service systems into a single, well-oiled housing placement machine capable of moving homeless individuals into permanent housing in as little time as possible. By applying process improvement techniques drawn from industry and the private sector to local housing and human service work, many communities have been able to dramatically reduce the amount of time required to house a single homeless person by as much as 80 percent. (read more)

St. Louis is listed as a community on the organization website but clicking on the dot on the map is disappointing:

Zero progress?
Zero progress?

I emailed St. Louis’ director of human services William Siedhoff who replied;

“St. Louis might be listed as a community as part of the 100k effort but we have never been a participant in this program and, to my knowledge, none of the surrounding counties are involved either. Therefore, there would be no reporting of data on people being housed in the St. Louis region to this program.”

That’s good to know. Siedhoff also sent me a link to an article from a few days ago:

TAMPA — In 2002, local leaders adopted a 10-year plan to end homelessness in Hillsborough County based on the “housing first” philosophy sweeping the nation. In 2005, the city of St. Louis adopted a similar plan.

Nine years later, St. Louis’ plan has lowered its homeless population by more than 30 percent.

Hillsborough’s plan was never carried out. (read more — highly recommended)

Some in Tampa want to emulate our model.

The poll question last week was on homelessness, here are the results:

Q: Do you support giving the chronically homeless apartments?

  1. Yes, it’s likely cheaper 36 [29.27%]
  2. Yes, but only after completing work/treatment programs 30 [24.39%]
  3. Maybe, I need to learn more 29 [23.58%]
  4. No, they need to work like the rest of society 24 [19.51%]
  5. Unsure/No Opinion 4 [3.25%]

The 24 who said no are probably the same ones who complain the loudest about the homeless, lots of talk but no actual solutions. Likewise the 30 who said only after completing programs need to understand how housing improves the success rate. Without housing social workers have less success helping these individuals.

The government and public are spending billions annually already, the question is how effective are we?  There’s evidence to support the idea that getting the chronic homeless off the streets first lessons the burden on the community and has a greater chance of helping the individuals long term.

— Steve Patterson