She sews 'life into people,' but now she faces eviction

  • Article by: MATT MCKINNEY , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 25, 2011 - 9:57 PM

Former seamstress must raise the money to buy her Minneapolis building.

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Jariland Spence provides hope, hugs, counseling and hot meals at God’s Prayer Center on West Broadway in Minneapolis.

The self-proclaimed "Warrior Princess" of West Broadway has landed in another battle, and this one could put her on the street.

Jariland Spence, a seamstress who four years ago converted her north Minneapolis storefront shop into a prayer center for all comers, says she's been ordered out of the building by the landlord, who wants to sell.

A last-minute reprieve came last week when a hearing before a Hennepin County Housing Court judge led to a 30-day grace period. That's how long Spence has to finance the $142,500 necessary to buy the building -- a one-story, 2,500-square-foot brick store built in 1921.

"She needs a white knight," said her attorney, Bill Butler.

How Spence came this far is a story itself, one known to homeless men, recently released felons, women at their wits' end and others in need. They found her "God's Prayer Center" along the commercial strip of West Broadway and stepped inside. They found a place to sit down, have a cup of coffee and share their story. A photo of Spence sits on a desk inside, the caption "Warrior Princess" spelled out like a job title.

"People come in for comfort," said Spence. "They come in to be listened to."

Spence said she ran a sewing business at the location for 18 years before she heard a calling to help others.

"I sew life into people now," she said.

She's sustained her operation with the help of two primary donors, plus random donations and other support. Grace Church in Eden Prairie recently sent over food to help her pull off her weekly free meal, which she offers Thursdays.

Her landlord since 1999 has been John Reider. On Sept. 20 he delivered a letter that said the building had been sold. The new owners wanted her out by Nov. 1. Reider could not be reached for comment Friday.

It wasn't the first time she and Reider were at cross purposes over the building. She was evicted last year, in August, for falling behind in her monthly rent of $1,200. She moved out, but then pleaded with Reider to allow her back in to host her annual Thanksgiving meal last year. He relented. She held the meal and was able to make rent payments again. In January, she and Reider signed a purchase agreement that said she would purchase the building in July.

Spence said she raised money for the purchase, but after the North Side tornado hit on May 22, the money was used to help others instead.

When she learned of the new buyer, Spence tried to negotiate with them, but they wanted to raise her rent to $2,600.

Instead she and Butler faced Reider in Housing Court last week, arguing that the January purchase agreement is still valid and that she should be given the chance to buy the property.

The case was headed to a jury trial set for next Tuesday when Reider agreed to a 30-day window for Spence to raise the funds, said Butler.

For now Spence has continued her work, meeting one-on-one with people in need, listening and praying. She held the annual Thanksgiving meal, and several hundred people stopped in over the course of two days for a free hot supper, she said.

Spence says she's confident something will work out.

"I know that the money is going to come from me to buy that building," she said.

Matt McKinney • 612-217-1747

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