#NLEC Detriment or Offense?

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I’ve mentioned here the petition by neighbors to end emergency shelter at 1411 Locust Street. Tuesday, December 10th is planned as the final hearing before the Board of Public Service. If you’d like to attend it will be in room 208 at 1:45pm at St Louis City Hall. But as this has unfolded it has become clear from the neighboring petitioners that any good lie will do. Laura Griffin said to the STL Post Dispatch, “He’s making a lot of money from his radio and TV station highlighting the problems here, and he doesn’t really do anything to help. But he’s a good talker,” she said. Meanwhile, “We see drug deals going down almost on a daily basis” in the area.

SOOOO which is it? DO they have real evidence that NLEC has committed crimes against the neighborhood pursuant to city ordinance 61971, encouraged crime in the neighborhood, or willfully neglected its guests and staff? Or do they have more backhanded slander? If this process is all about slander, than the use of this city ordinance will surely backfire. Using a city ordinance to shut down an active Church that provides a much needed service would set a dangerous precedent for future legal cases. This is why the legal community and legal students are so interested.

Here are some of the slanderous accusations unrelated to the ordinance itself (any good lie will do):

1. NLEC has over $34 million in its budget, plenty of money to hire social workers, medical staff, etc.
Answer: Untrue. Unfounded. We have a St Louis accounting firm. Fick, Eggemeyer, and Williamson. Ask them or us for financials. This is an old accusation. Our accountants did an independent audit in 2008 when accusations surfaced then. That document can still be accessed on NLEC’s website. Why should NLEC hire nurses, drug treatment counselors, or clinical social workers? There are many fine agencies within walking distance that serve our shelter guests.

2. Larry Rice intentionally draws the homeless into downtown using Channel 24 and then traps them here.
Answer: Untrue. Channel 24 is NLEC’s independent family station. It’s been on the air since 1982. We raise funds for operations. People donate and they sometimes receive assistance as necessary. To claim that this is a deliberate attempt to draw and entrap assumes that people cannot think for themselves or choose when and how to travel.
Here’s the truth: a man recently found his way here from the west coast. He received shelter, lodging, training outside St Louis, and then, after deciding he did not want to stay, we paid for his bus ticket back home and drove him to the Greyhound station in Columbia, MO. This sort of hospitality is who we truly are. Clients are their own first advocates. What they choose to do must be honored and affirmed in order to maintain trust.

3. NLEC does not hire social workers or medical professionals and so willfully neglects its guests.
Answer: This was heavily discussed during the hearings and Faye Abrams, a professor of social work at St Louis University gave a full explanation as to what social workers do and whether NLEC does not follow best practices in not employing one. In a nutshell, licensed clinical social workers are not necessary for every homeless person because not all have mental disorders. Neither should it be assumed that homeless persons must receive consultation by a social worker in order for a shelter to be effective. More information on Missouri tiers of licensure can be found at the NASW-MO chapter website.

NLEC recently hired a caseworker for our women and children. She is not an LCSW. She, like many shelter caseworkers, assists clients in a range of needs related to housing, work, counseling, transportation, and medical health. She refers to all other professional area agencies as requested by her clients.

4. NLEC has no partnerships with other homeless service providers.
Answer: not true. We refer people constantly to other area services. I insist that men who want to join our long term programs but have persistent mental disorders or disability, substance abuse issues, etc. immediately connect with St Patrick Center and other area agencies. Startherestl.org uses us as a distribution point for referral literature, as do other agencies. I lead tours of our facility to students, interns, and church groups regularly.

5. Chris Rice said he’s not responsible for anything that goes on outside NLEC.
Answer: not true. This is repeated ad-nauseum by Matt O’Leary and Brad Waldrop (lead petitioners)  at the hearings, around the neighborhood, at city hall, and on the web (wherever anyone will listen) in reference to face to face conversations we had. To insist that I (Chris Rice) dictate policies at NLEC is incorrect. To insist that I refuse to enforce security around our building based on things heard is silly. Let me make it clear. I work on an administrative team here. We pay an outside security firm to work here and have their alarm systems installed. Visit their website.  We use security cameras throughout the premises on every floor and around the building, but also protect people’s privacy. We work with area police departments to enforce security, police the neighborhood, and turn in criminals. If someone commits a crime against this place or in this neighborhood I will personally go to the prosecutor’s office to press charges. We teach safe practices in the neighborhood and encourage good citizenry among our guests and program members. We also make them aware of their rights when they are ill-treated or wrongly accused.

6. Chris Rice said he’s scared to go in the dark and scary back alley.

Answer: Not true. As I said testified at the Board of Public Service hearing, my comments indicated that I myself practice safety in venturing out and encourage everyone else to do so. This was heard and interpreted differently.

7. Larry Rice is a televangelist who scams people out of their money and has lots of wealthy estates in the area.

Answer: Not true. My father actually attempts to live with so little that I think donors would be scandalized by the truth that he donates back, loans, and just gives away what he is meant to live on. Again, refer to the audit referred to in point #1. This lie has been repeated by Alderman Marlene Davis and many others. I take it personally and it is hurtful because I understand dad’s concept of personal property. Some of the public can’t believe it’s true that he can be president of a nonprofit and not own the property itself. Again, it involves actually educating one’s self on audits and financial reports, and its a lot less fun than spreading personal gossip, but I appeal to the public: please don’t remain ignorant of the facts. Read the audit and financials!

8. Ending emergency shelter at 1411 Locust St. will cause other agencies to provide shelter elsewhere, including in the county.

Answer: Not true. I do hope that the pressure placed on us at this time will result in some positive pro-active services turning up. A walk-in shelter for homeless men somewhere in St. Louis County is needed. But I also know that NIMBY rears its ugly head all over the region. Emergency shelter is not a popular community endeavor here. If anything, this region seems to be heading the opposite direction in its sympathies. I hope and pray I am proven dead wrong very soon!

9. The petitioners claim not to be complaining about the homeless themselves, but about Larry Rice in particular. But they have no photographic evidence of him loitering, littering, drug dealing, etc. as named in the ordinance. Which is it? The homeless— or the service, or both? Or neither? Or all of them?

Answer: The petitioners are a varied lot with a few loud “spokespersons”. Not everyone living in the petitioner’s area are signers or are in agreement.

Thus far I’ve looked at these arguments, hurtful as they are, and haven’t wanted to dignify them with a response, mainly because anyone who cares enough about facts could reason that NLEC is a 501c3 nonprofit registered in both Missouri and Illinois. They could easily get current financial statements from our website. They could care enough to inquire among other providers in downtown such as St. Patrick Center, Christ Church Cathedral, Horizon Club, or The Bridge at Centenary Methodist to learn whether we are not in fact partners who have the same clients. They might also talk to homeless people about where they stay for shelter and where they go during the day. I realize this may be asking too much.

It matters what these hearings are about. The slander against my dad and myself and our staff also matter. At various times the petitioners have blamed NLEC for bringing the homeless, the homeless for coming, or the region for sending them. The one group the petitioners never blame are themselves. They claim to be caring, the truly concerned ones, the truly informed ones, the RIGHTFUL owners of property in the neighborhood. The RIGHTFUL arbiters of truth in downtown.

Personally, I understand that we are an offense in our neighborhood. We are offensive not just because of the service we provide the homeless, but because we continue to insist that Christian service involves active giving and involvement. Our expression is to do that without government grants, city oversight, United Way support, or corporate underwriting. To do as much as we do with individual donations is offensive. It’s not on message. We’re spending money on things that the federal government is not targeting, like shelter for persons without substance abuse issues or mental disorders. And we’re so “in your face” about it. That’s offensive. They want all that to go somewhere else. And they are willing to say that we’re so offensive that no one should ever allow us to provide this service anywhere in the city ever again (See Brad Waldrop’s comment on this post, first sentence, final paragraph).

Here’s my perspective: Just because you find me offensive, that doesn’t make us a detriment. Not even if you say so loudly again and again and again. It really is a matter of perspective. For those, like Brad, who have always actively opposed our presence, there can be no common ground of understanding. You do not build dialogue with someone who resents your very presence. I also believe this is really about money. Brad’s father Larry’s parking lot (Star Park, LLC) is located on very lucrative development opportunity. He wants us gone so that development can move in. Yes, this is about money.

But I’m looking for teachable moments here in the neighborhood. We could really benefit from some constructive conversations about neighborhood safety, policing, poverty, and opportunity. Whether or not the petitioners ever recognize NLEC’s right to exist and provide service here, I would love to see some good community dialogue come out of this. Quality constructive education and positive ideas that show that Downtown St Louis loves all its citizens and understands that it takes all of us to make the kind of place capable of both hospitality and safety in the long term. I’m seriously looking forward to it in eager expectation. The other jive is so old now.

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