Homeless advocate holding 'Freedom Festival' in Cape on July 4, 5

Sunday, June 28, 2009

From dawn July 4 to sundown July 5, the Rev. Larry Rice and supporters will occupy Indian Park at the intersection of William and Lorimier streets to demonstrate the need for homeless services in Cape Girardeau.

Rice hasn't given up on his plan to convert the federal building at 339 Broadway into a homeless shelter providing emergency assistance and longer-term transitional housing. The proposal was rejected May 29 by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, but Rice said Friday he intends to file papers soon in federal court challenging the decision.

And to silence critics of his plan, who have used arguments that Cape Girardeau already has adequate programs for the homeless, Rice's New Life Evangelistic Center will provide the kinds of services it does at many of its other installations over the Independence Day weekend, he said.

"We will be communicating the need for a shelter somewhere in Cape Girardeau and be there for the community," Rice said. "We want to be out there where they can get a lot of help without a lot of red tape."

The events in Indian Park will combine elements of Rice's programs for renewable energy, free stores and homeless assistance. He is calling it a "Freedom Festival" and plans to distribute free food and clothing and provide demonstrations of alternative energy, including solar cooking, photovoltaic solar power and hydrogen boosters for automobiles.

"We simply want to help people," Rice said. "We want to provide direct help in a very tangible way. There is a need in the community, and I wish that city officials would recognize that need."

As work progressed on the new Rush H. Limbaugh Sr. U.S. Courthouse at 555 Independence St., Cape Girardeau County officials kept their sights on obtaining the federal building the courthouse would replace. But under federal law, applications to use surplus federal property as homeless shelters have priority over other uses.

Rice applied under that law in early May, but Health and Human Services rejected his request. In the letter detailing the reasons, the department said the application failed to show how he planned to coordinate services, failed to demonstrate a sufficient need, proposed a timeline for implementing the programs that was too slow and didn't show the financial strength to make good on its promises.

In response to Rice's application, Mayor Jay Knudtson mobilized political, community and religious leaders to oppose it. The criticisms of Rice's application ranged from complaints that it misquoted or misrepresented the views of some area service providers to questions about the number of truly homeless people in the area. Knudtson also, through a weekly meeting with service agencies, revived a plan for nine dwellings for families trying to make the transition from homelessness.

Knudtson was not available for comment.

Rice said he continues to be helped in local efforts by Deborah Young, president of the recently revived Southeast Missouri chapter of the NAACP. And he said he will continue to target Cape Girardeau until the city has services meeting local needs.

"The mayor called together these agencies, refused to recognize the need, and they were patting each other on the back for what a good job they were doing," Rice said. "Those needs continue to keep growing both because of the economic situation and the ongoing needs we have as a society. Until there is a recognition of the need, there is no viable solution. That is not acceptable."

Young could not be reached for comment.

rkeller@semissourian.com

388-3642

Pertinent addresses:

Indian Park, Cape Girardeau, MO

339 Broadway, Cape Girardeau, MO

555 Independence St., Cape Girardeau, MO

Map of pertinent addresses

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