By Grant Bissell
St. Louis (KSDK) - Four people were arrested Wednesday night, including the well known Reverend Larry Rice, for refusing to leave a new tent city for the homeless near the Missouri Botanical Gardens at I-44 and Vandeventer.
Just as he promised, Reverend Rice pitched his tent on leased land Wednesday, and brought about a half dozen others with him. Rice called it Integrity Village. And he said it was the only option for some because the city won't provide a long-term solution for homelessness.
And just as the city promised, just hours after the tents went up, police ordered them taken down.
The city condemned the property saying it was unfit for occupancy. Rice refused to leave and went to jail for violating a city ordinance.
"For one day, dignity. They felt integrity," said Rice as he was lead away in handcuffs. "They felt they had a place that they could call home. I grieve over the fact that he only had it for a day and lost it," said Rice as he relayed what he said one of the homeless men told him about the camp.
"This is not an easy problem," said Eddie Roth, the Director Public Safety for the city of St. Louis. "But camping out where there are fire hazards, health risks, are not a solution either. It's less than doing nothing. It's endangering people."
The city did offer a ride and space in a shelter to anyone who wanted it, and about six people took them up on the offer.
Rice says the city only did that because the news media was present.
A new homeless camp is now officially open near Interstate 44 and Vandeventer in St. Louis. Reverend Larry Rice and his followers set up Integrity Village on Wednesday.
PHOTOS - Integrity Village
NewsChannel 5 has learned the land where the new camp sits belongs to Middleton Carouthers, owner of local demolition company The Wrecking Crew. According to a lease agreement, Carouthers only charged Reverend Larry Rice and the New Life Evangelistic Center one dollar to use the land for at least a year.
Carouthers says he did it to help the homeless. But some think he's acting out of spite.
Carouthers has owned the land for years and has tried and failed to bring multiple new businesses to the lot. The most recent was a gas station. But there was a problem. Carouthers owns all the land on the west side of an alley that divides the area. The Garden District Commission, a community organization, owns parts on the east side. The gas station would have needed some of the Garden District's land and they didn't want to sell.
Seventeenth Ward Alderman Joseph Roddy said Wednesday the denial angered Carouthers and allowing a homeless camp on his land is his way of getting back at the neighborhood.
"No. This is not retaliation," said Carouthers. "I'm on good terms with the Garden. I just want the ground to have some use."
Carouthers admits he was upset at the time, but says that was two years ago and he's moved on.
"Something good is going to come about this," said Carouthers. "I don't know what it is yet, but I know some folks are going to have a place to stay."
The question remains how long the homeless will be allowed to stay there. St. Louis Public Safety Director Eddie Roth reaffirmed his plan to shut down the camp.
"We will move in when appropriate and at a time of our choosing," said Roth. "We will not allow the site to be used as an overnight shelter without compliance with our safety and health regulations."
Around 5:30 p.m. Wednesday a police captain was on-site at Integrity Village and told the homeless they had to be out or they would be arrested.
At 7 p.m. a number of homeless people and Larry Rice were arrested.