The New Life Evangelistic Center closed its doors for good Sunday.
The City said the center has been operating without permits since 2015. On Sunday, staff and supporters gathered at an afternoon rally to say goodbye to the 42-year-old institution.
Reverend Larry Rice ran the homeless shelter on Locust Street since 1976. This week, a judge ruled that the City can force Rice to close his doors. But many staff and supporters said they’re not giving up without a fight.
People were gathered in song and prayer outside New Life just hours before it was slated to close.
"This center means a home, a job and helping at least 200 people a day,” said Billie Sanford, who has been living and work at NELC since November 2016.
Throughout the day, staff packed up and cleared out belongings. At the same time, Director Rice, held one last rally. Rice said he plans to move through the legal process and to take his case as far as the Missouri State Supreme Court.
"When a city shuts down a church because it's practicing what it preaches, it's a direct violation of what it's supposed to be doing in the first place,” said Rice.
For many, the church and shelter has been a place of refuge, when they had nowhere else to go.
"So, it's like when you have a family — it's all fun and warm and kind to you and when we became homeless that was taken away,” said 12-year-old Raymond, who came to New Life with his grandmother and siblings. “When we met Larry here, I regained my happiness back and I was able to regain control of myself."
"I came here when I lost my mother,” explained Victoria Harris. “I just gave up on life and then someone told me come here and see what it's all about."
The City said after four years of trying to work together, NLEC has not completed requirements for proper permits, despite considerable grace periods.
Those leaving New Life boarded busses for Biddle Housing Opportunities Center on North Tucker, which will serve as the processing center. The City said it will continue to provide overnight shelters.
But, for Billie Sanford, this is simply not a solution.
"The city of St. Louis seems to think that closing down this shelter or this church is going to end the homeless problem or end the drug problem on the streets of St. Louis and it hasn’t done either."
Rice said there is a hearing with the judge Wednesday, April 5. If it does not produce favorable results, he said he will continue to petition in favor of his case.