Larry Rice…..Prophet or Prison Warden?

Yesterday I stepped foot for the first time  into 1411 Locust, a tall five-story brick building in the heart of downtown St. Louis. On the outside of the structure about 3 stories high is a large white cross, a reminder to the residents and patrons of the area that there should be GOD inside those walls.1411Locust Many times I have passed the massive building, an old YWCA; at any time of day, during any type of weather you are sure to see people gathering outside this “shelter” hoping to seek refuge and get any assistance that is made available. However, it was not until yesterday that I actually was able to see the inside of this so-called holy place of help and ministry. It was what I saw amidst the run down filthy walls of New Life Evangelistic Center [hereafter will be referred to as NLEC] that disturbed my spirit in the most unsettling of ways.

 

 

 

The Back Story

For nearly four decades NLEC has been housed in downtown St. Louis, MO; purchased in 1975 [NLEC was originally founded in 1972 starting out in a 50-foot trailer in Wellston, MO] by Rev. Larry Rice and his wife Penny the center was set to be the headquarters for a Christian television station Rice was planning to orchestrate as well a place for those in need [the poor and homeless] to come for emergency shelter. No sooner than the “church” opened its doors to those in need did the Television Evangelist begin his “mission” to raise money to keep his operation a float. St. Louis residents know all too well of the many fundraising efforts and telethons of the NLEC. A decade old federal filing showed evidence that despite pleas for funds that the organization was not hurting for money at all, in fact they had a net worth of $40 million. Of course Rev. Rice has continued to dispute such facts stating the organization has sold property and or given it away, and also says that his media stock for his television station KNLC has plummeted. [You would never know it by looking at their state of the art studio equipment]. The organization’s 2012 year-end financial statement however showed there to be still $2 million in various funds and millions in assets. [ I tried to locate more recent financial records but had very little luck]. One would be lead to believe that with such an abundance of funds, I mean $40 million [even $2 million] is a lot of money, that this facility should look like something immaculate and grand on the inside. So one would think.

Syrup and Peanut Butter Sandwiches

The large structure is old, that part is evident the moment you lay eyes on it, the raggedy window air conditioning units are a clear indicator that there is no central air. You must knock to enter during the day, the door is opened by an older African-American man who could possibly be the janitor or security? As I stood in the reception area waiting for the assistant to the director of development to come meet with us I surveyed my surroundings. Trying my best not to inhale too much of the strong masked stale odor of funk and Pine Sol, I noticed the “receptionist” was probably not a real receptionist but a patron or possibly a resident. An older gentleman wearing an old t-shirt and dingy jeans, he spoke quietly and looked exhausted. The lobby was full of rows of chairs facing an old large tube television which was of course on channel 24 and showing “Highway to Heaven”. People [residents] were far and few between; those who were peddling about the building I assumed them to be employees. Finally after about ten minutes of waiting we were greeted by the assistant who proceeds to give us a “tour” of this “grand” structure and “holy” place. We see the donation room and the food pantry which is not a pantry at all. The shelves are scarcely stocked with ramen noodles, expired can goods and baby food. There are slates and slates of bread which I can only hope to have been fresh. ” There on that shelf is where we normally keep peanut butter and jelly for the sandwiches we hand out daily. We haven’t had jelly in quite some time so we have been making syrup and peanut butter sandwiches.” Luckily, I was looking in the opposite direction of her and she was unable to see my face.

“This is a church, not a professional service organization. People aren’t clients; they’re guests. Shelter is simply a function of worship.  “We have a totally different structure,” Larry says. “We try to have an open faith community.” ~Larry Rice

The Tour

We continued, the first stop was of course the worship room. A large room that serves multiple purposes, where press conferences, telethons and church service is held. It is also where mother’s with children bunk for the night sleeping on pallets on the floor. Then there was of course “the television studio” where we meet a man who is running the sound board. The equipment appears to be up to date and not at all cheap, the set however is familiar and very outdated. “I have a show starting at the end of the month and I am hoping to get new updated sets and cameras.” she says. Unlike the rest of the interior this room is well-kept, but are you surprised? This is what they want the people to see, the show. We move on, now having to take the steps to the upper levels because according to the sign on the elevator “This elevator is out-of-order and we don’t have the funds to repair it.” The walls of the stairwells are peeling terribly, there are large freestanding furnaces with caution tape wrapped around them. [A hazard I am sure], the stairs and banisters were not very sturdy and I was sure something was going to crawl up my pants leg at any moment. Without taking you floor by floor I will give you an overview of floors 2-4. Women and children who are in the 14 day program sleep in a room called the blue room. A room with some bunks and some regular beds. The organization is working on getting seamless mattresses due to a bed bug problem. The walls in the room are a pasty color, the curtains are hanging on the window merely on a hope and a prayer. The bedding is filthy just from years of people using them over and over. Just the idea of children having to sleep in such trife made me nauseated. There was a dining area, where those living on that floor eat each meal. A couple of old dirty high chairs sat in the corner. There was also a room for women living in their 2 year leadership program. Those women are allowed to live at NLEC for two years; for a price of course. A bay of about eight beds and a kitchen area for dining. It was 90 degrees in the shade yesterday, and I felt every bit of that heat standing in that room. Moving right along, the men’s transitional living floor was not much better aside from the fact that they had dorm style rooms where they only sleep two to a room. Due to the rooms being occupied at the time of our tour we were not able to see those living conditions. However, in the room that was designated “the kitchen” and dining area we did notice a mouse,  a mouse so dead it was flat. [are these healthy living conditions for anyone?] The floors were ready to cave in at any moment if you stepped in the wrong spot. These men, like the women are allowed to live for two years, but for a price.

 

Emergency Shelter

The fifth floor is where I knew that I was not in a place of holy doings, but more like a bay of horrors. Two large rooms were filled with prison style bunks, complete with the prison mattress, some dirty old blankets and pillows so flat and dirty I immediately began to itch. The overhead fixtures were leaking water causing the rooms to smell of mold and mildew. “We are able to house 150 men up here for emergency shelter each night.”. I noticed there was a desk and a chair in the front of the room, one where a security guard might sit. So I asked the question regarding security at night. The response was shocking. “We don’t employ actual security guards. We have residential advisors who are residents in the leadership program. They work for the shelter. In return they get room and board, meals and any assistance they made need such as transportation to dr’s appointments.” I was floored. Throughout the tour I only met and noted about 6 to 8 employees who were probably on payroll. Where is the money? How in all of the world does a program who does not have more than ten paid employees not be able to repair their building? How do they not have the funds to purchase food? Why are they not utilizing the food bank that is available to organizations such as these? Are these forced living conditions acceptable because they are happening under the pretense of “doing the Lord’s work”? For years people have spoken out and against NLEC but it was not until seeing with my own eyes these conditions that I have been able to formulate my own opinion. Forcing people to work for you, not allowing them to get out and obtain a real job for two years or more only to at the end of their stay offer them a $500 stipend paid on an apartment is doing disservice to these people! The fact that these people are homeless and poor does not make them any less human than the Reverend himself. There is no reason or justification for these people to live in such inhumane and disgusting conditions. I have never been so angry in all my life. To take advantage of people’s misfortune because they truly have no place else to go is not Christ like. These people aren’ offered services such as case management or job training to help them once they leave the “church”. Who is that helping? I guess it’s none of our business that the good Reverend lives in a mansion somewhere out in Wildwood, MO. People like the television pastor are clowns.

“The only people Larry could get to staff New Life were people who were homeless,” he says. “That’s the downfall of the place. His management style is such a put-off.” Almost like modern-day slavery for blacks and whites.”   ~former “employee” of NLEC

 

On July 22, 2014 at 1:45pm a decision at City Hall will be made regarding the occupancy permit of NLEC, the residents of downtown are sick of the nuisance that the residents of NLEC have become. Judgement could come forcing Rice to shut his doors. Part of me is rooting for this decision and another part is wondering where will all the people in need turn to if this happens? While I see what a terrible injustice this is, I also see the bigger picture. NLEC takes in everyone, no matter race, creed, disability or religion. Not many shelters in St. Louis do this. Despite what city officials believe there is a homeless problem plaguing downtown St. Louis, and Larry Rice aids in easing that problem, but at what cost to those in need? You decide Prophet or Prison Warden?

 

“Today, if someone shows up at NLEC’s door looking for emergency shelter, they can stay for 14 days. At the end of that period, they can either find somewhere else to go for 30 days or join one of NLEC’s programs. There’s a 30-day program for men and women, a 90-day program for veterans and women, and a two-year leadership program.

In each case, people exchange labor for room and board. They operate the shelter at night when the pastors go home. They also provide security, do administrative work, cook, clean, and serve as cameramen and producers for Larry’s TV station. They receive no wages. They’re also required to attend daily prayer meetings.

Members of the two-year program are often shipped off to one of Larry’s farms, where they tend to livestock, operate broadcast centers, or turn used vegetable oil into diesel fuel as part of his Missouri Renewable Energy initiative. Their work generates income for NLEC, but still, they receive no wages. In fact, members of the two-year program who collect disability or other benefits are asked to donate 40 percent.” source No Shelter written by William Powell for St. Louis Magazine  read the full article here.

 

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15 thoughts on “Larry Rice…..Prophet or Prison Warden?

    • sb says:

      Dear God please forgive this writer and all the horrible things they have said about Larry rice homeless shelter ….thank u God for this shelter …..for if this shelter wasn’t provided then instead of run down mattress and used blankets they would be sleeping on sidewalks and under bridges…I do have one question for the writer …..have u ever personally volunteered your time at this shelter? I have and there are so many people in need …… For it is written who ever fed me when I was hungry…who ever gave me shelter when I had no home whoever has done this for the least of these has done this for Me also…..

      • B.Marie says:

        Normally I don’t waste my time responding to questions that have been answered within the writing. How do you think I was able to get inside the shelter to see the living conditions? the dead rats on the floors and the ceilings caving in over beds that are full of bedbug infestation? or the moldy bread they are serving people? I don’t think the Bible says feed those less fortunate with old bread and shelter them in conditions unsafe and sanitary for even animals. Please don’t try it!

  1. Ryan says:

    So I just saw on the news that Larry Rice is filing a Federal Lawsuit to stop an order to limit the people who stay at his facility. It immediately reminded me of this article.

  2. dandanthedrivingman says:

    Spent over 13 yrs volunteering and working with others through this organization. Have you ever served 3 or more years in a combat U.S.military combat infantry unit? You probably would not like the conditions there either. Did you offer to volunteer your time,money, car or anything else to this or any other organization in last 20 yrs. Or do you only critically look to find fault in those Actually trying to do something. Since your visit there what have you done? Please tell us the REST of this ( story)! The truth will set us free won’t it..?

    • B.Marie says:

      I am prior military so no need to question what conditions I would like or dislike. Facts are facts and the truth is this place is disgusting and nobody deserves to live in these conditions not even the less fortunate! With all the funds available and given to Larry Rice there is no reason that money should not be put into making the shelter better suited for those who are forced to live there. I have spoken with people who lived there and they admit the living conditions are horrible. I have worked with homeless youth and adults for years and none of the shelters I’ve been in are as bad as Larry Rice.

  3. Joe says:

    You should be writing for the PD. They could use an actual journalist or two over there. Excellent reporting about what is both a St. Louis City institution, and a place which stirs much local controversy. This is the first time I have seen anything written or reported on the conditions of NLEC. This was written over two years ago however, it is timely as the City has ordered Rev. Rice to vacate. Unless, things have changed dramatically over the past couple of years, this place may be doing more long-term harm than good for those it has intended to assist.

    • B.Marie says:

      Thank you!! I have tried to find a way back in as at the time I wrote this piece I was working for another shelter. I plan to wtite a follow up piece reporting on the current conditions since he was sanctioned by the City. This place was disgusting. I can only hope the conditions have gotten better.

  4. Bill says:

    I’m 59 now. I started supporting Larry when I was 21. I worked at his Thanksgiving Dinner
    originally. I was manning the front door showing people where they could deposit their donations. One guy came in and I pointed to the pile of clothes etc. in the corner. He just stood
    there. Again I tried to move him toward the donation pile. Larry Rice comes up behind me and taps me on the shoulder, “That bag he’s carrying is everything he owns.” I didn’t have any money back then and didn’t grow up privileged, but there is a grand canyon of space between the desperately poor and hungry and most of us. I have never forgotten that or Larry. That man has offered his life to the poorest of the poor. I can’t think of anyone else that lives his life as much like Jesus himself than Larry. Feed and clothe the poor. Bill

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