Violent Attack at Homeless Shelter Has Critics on the Offensive

Virginia Shelly, 67, was savagely beaten in an attack last week at the downtown homeless shelter New Life Evangelistic Center. The incident is the second act of violence to occur at the center in the past nine months.

Shelly, a New Life employee, was assisting a resident on the third floor of the shelter Thursday afternoon (October 9) when she was attacked without provocation, according to St. Louis police.

Pamela Fraction, a 28-year-old homeless woman, has been charged with second-degree assault as a result of the attack.



Fraction, according to police, pushed Shelly to the floor and "began punching her with a closed fist."

The assault continued even as other employees attempted to stop the assailant. Shelly suffered an injury to the back of her head and “golf-ball-sized knot on her forehead."

The Rev. Larry Rice, director of New Life Evangelistic Center, calls Shelly an "African-American version of Mother Theresa" who coordinated the organization's women’s shelter. Rice reports that Shelly remains hospitalized but is starting to show signs of recovery. "She’s presently conscious and somewhat lucid," says Rice. "She's doing better today."

This past February a homeless resident at New Life stabbed and killed another man staying at the downtown shelter. Weeks earlier, in January 2008, a homeless man staying at one of Rev. Rice’s shelter in New Bloomfield, attacked four people with a chainsaw and a knife.

As reported in Riverfront Times earlier this fall, a group of downtown residents and business owners is currently petitioning the city to have New Life condemned as a "detriment to the neighborhood."

Andy Martello, one of the residents spearheading the petition, says last week's assault against Shelly is one more reason the shelter needs to go.

"We've had a fatal stabbing earlier this year, a chainsaw attack at his other facility, a rape at another in Springfield, and now yet another attack where a woman who has worked there for many years is lying in a hospital fighting for her life," says Martello.

"How many more people have to die and lie in a hospital until Larry realizes that his organization does more harm than good?"

Rice says he's now planning to hire an additional security guard for the women's floor of his shelter, though he maintains that no amount of security could have prevented last week’s incident.

"That woman just flew off the handle," says Rice. “But then that's the risk my courageous staff takes every day in providing shelter for people turned away from other places. You’d think maybe the loft dwellers would recognize that and not shoot themselves in the foot. Without us here these people would be sleeping in the parks and on the loft-dwellers’ doorsteps.”

- Chad Garrison