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Evicted homeless shelter takes Thanksgiving to the street

Thursday's Thanksgiving gathering is for many people living through tough conditions.

ST. LOUIS — An eviction isn't stopping one homeless shelter from sharing a Thanksgiving meal. It was April this year when the City of St. Louis forced the New Life Evangelistic Center to close. Thursday, volunteers set up tables outside of the building to feed people anyway.

"It's scary," said Jamie Kolbetanz, who is searching for shelter. "It's cold. It's miserable."

Kolbetanz's journey started nine years ago. She says she got sick and her ex-husband didn't pay the bills.

"Right now, I'm staying at the riverfront," she said. "Outside in a tent."

Thursday's Thanksgiving gathering is for her and many other people living through tough conditions. Volunteers handed out personal hygiene items, blankets, coats, tote bags, and a hot meal.

"You can shut down a building but you can't shut down a church," said Rev. Larry Rice, who ran the New Life Evangelistic Center homeless shelter since 1976.

The City of St. Louis said the center operated without permits in recent years and called it a nuisance. Rice says he's working on getting the building up to code.

"We're doing everything we gotta do," he said. "We have taken down an old fire escape, we are putting in a sprinkler system that they wanted, putting in doors in there, fire retardant walls, all this stuff."

In the meantime, he's trying to give as many people as possible a permanent place to live.

"This table right here is set up, special, to help people get off the streets," he said. "We also have tables set up where people are getting bus tickets."

"I appreciate that because I only have so much money," Kolbetanz said.

Rice is raising $1 million to re-open the shelter. He hopes to open a daytime facility by February or March.

In order to have showers in the building, the city requires a petition. Rice says his team is having trouble getting into a nearby apartment building to ask people for their signatures.

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