Missouri politicians: Cape Girardeau courthouse not OK homeless shelter site

Tuesday, May 19, 2009 | 6:00 p.m. CDT; updated 9:13 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, May 19, 2009

CAPE GIRARDEAU — Federal lawmakers say an old federal building in Cape Girardeau is too big and in the wrong spot to turn into a homeless shelter.

A new federal building opened last year in the southeast Missouri town. Cape Girardeau County hoped to use the old building as a county courthouse, but the U.S. Department of Justice rejected the request.

The New Life Evangelistic Center, a Christian ministry that helps the needy, has applied to the government, seeking to turn the 47,000-square-foot building into a shelter.

U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., wrote to Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius last week seeking a detailed review of the application that she said should lead to a rejection of the proposal.

U. S. Sen. Kit Bond, R-Mo., wrote to Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Shaun Donovan on May 7. He raised concerns about the application and asked HUD for a comprehensive review of New Life Evangelistic Center's finances, its track record and its ability to manage the property.

U.S. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, R-Cape Girardeau, also has said she is opposed to the creation of a shelter at the old federal building.

The New Life Evangelistic Center ministry, founded by the Rev. Larry Rice, wants the building to be used as a transitional program for homeless families and veterans, an emergency homeless shelter and to run a free store for the needy.

Rice has said the shelter he envisions would serve 125 people annually in transitional housing, or about 40 to 50 at any one time.

The Southeast Missourian reported Tuesday that the courthouse was declared surplus and offered as a potential site for homeless services in February. Most agencies have moved to the new Rush H. Limbaugh Sr. Federal Courthouse or other locations.

McCaskill's letter of May 14 said that local agencies already work well together to serve the homeless population in Cape Girardeau and that the building is much larger than the needs of the homeless in the region.

"Finally, while community and elected leaders are unified in their efforts to assist those in need of transitional housing, there is an equally unified view that the project proposed by the NLEC is not the appropriate mechanism for addressing any perceived unmet needs in the Cape Girardeau community," she wrote.

Rice's ministry said a Missouri Housing Development Commission survey showed 48 unsheltered homeless people living in the county in 2008. It suggested that using a broader definition, there might be as many as 2,200 homeless people near Cape Girardeau.

"All I am trying to do is get people to follow the law when it comes to federal property," Rice said.

Sebelius' department reviews the application. Rice submitted the New Life application on May 4, and the department has 25 days to make a decision.

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