A Place to Call Home: Where’s Affordable Housing?
Speakers: William R. Emmons, lead economist, Center for Household Financial Stability, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. Lisa Mandel, a realtor who works to create affordable housing. She is a member of the Urban Land Institute; volunteers with the Equal Housing and Opportunity Council; and serves on the St. Louis Metro Housing Task Force and the Landlord Advisory Group at St. Patrick’s Center.
In Missouri, William Emmons said, half of all renters in 2012 were “cost burdened”–that is, spending more than 30 percent of pretax income on housing. He said the most effective way to increase affordability is to reverse exclusionary zoning, which has been used historically to segregate multiple municipalities throughout the St. Louis area. He noted that other efforts such as large-scale public housing projects and “grossly underfunded” housing vouchers have not worked.
Emmons said St. Louis can learn from what other cities are doing. Minneapolis has adopted a multifaceted plan to help residents obtain housing they can afford. See the Minneapolis 2040 plan at https://minneapolis2040.com/topics/housing/.
Lisa Mandel agreed that local zoning issues are the “core of the problem.” Zoning regulations that allow only single-family homes and large lots have limited the inventory of affordable housing in the St. Louis area.
But she sees some hopeful signs. St. Louis has a large number of low-cost houses and apartments that could be bought cheaply and renovated, she said. Nonprofit developers, such as Rise Community Development and St. Louis Equity Fund, are building affordable housing. Beyond Housing helps people seeking housing and works to develop neighborhoods.
How can Women’s Voices members and others change the housing market? Our speakers called for grassroots advocacy to change public policy. They said progress should include a broader view of the entire metropolitan area that includes funding schools equitably so that all communities attract development. They urged us to communicate with our municipal governments and city councils.
SoulFisher Ministries Restores Lives after Incarceration
At the February monthly program, Shawntelle L. Fisher, founder of The SoulFisher Ministries, captivated the audience with her personal success story. After cycling in and out of prison, she turned her life around, earned multiple college degrees, and now works tirelessly to help women reentering society to break the cycle of recidivism. SoulFisher Ministries provides holistic services that give women the support they need to become engaged in the community and remain free of criminal activity.
AGAPE (Adult General Academic Program of Education), the nonprofit organization’s pre- and post-incarceration program, offers education, life skills training, case management, housing, and other services.
As part of its goal to empower young people as well as adults, SoulFisher Ministries also works to break the school-to-prison pipeline. In the Riverview Gardens School District, students with an incarcerated parent, or who are performing below grade level, receive tutoring and enrichment experiences through ENAL (Educate Now to Achieve Later), an after-school program.
Fisher said volunteers are vital to SoulFisher Ministries’ success and urged the audience to get involved. Volunteers are needed to tutor and mentor program participants, help raise funds, or serve in leadership.
The need is great. Women’s incarceration has grown dramatically in recent years and Missouri leads the way, ranking number 5 of the 50 states. Nearly 3,500 women each year return to our communities, where they struggle to rebuild their families, their health, and their economic circumstances.
More on Shawntelle Fisher
Fisher has raised more than $2.5 million in funding, including grants from the U.S. Department of Justice, the We Raise Foundation, and the Lutheran Foundation. After incarceration, she earned bachelor’s degrees in educational studies and in media studies from the University of Missouri St. Louis; a master’s degree in social work from Washington University; and a master’s degree in divinity from Eden Theological Seminary. She is a licensed master social worker. She was founding board president for the Riverview Gardens Education Foundation and currently serves on the board of the National Legal Aid and Defender Association. Fisher is public relations officer for the University of Missouri-St. Louis chapter of the Phi Kappa Phi Honor Society. In addition to her work with The SoulFisher Ministries, Fisher conducts workshops on dismantling the school-to-prison pipeline, reentry simulations, and trainings with the Missouri Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers.
47 Years Later: Still Fighting for the Right to Choose
Speaker: Yamelsie Rodriguez, President/CEO, Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri
Planned Parenthood is inspired to stand up for women in the face of current attacks on their constitutional rights to abortion. “We need all women in the fight,” Yelsie Rodriguez said, advising the audience on how to gear up in 2020:
• Vote for candidates who support women
• Volunteer with Planned Parenthood
• Sign the petition to get Medicaid expansion on the 2020 ballot
• Write letters to the editor
• Contact lawmakers
• Share news about the issue on social media
• Tell your personal story to members of Congress and others
• Run for office
She warned that growing threats on the national and state levels require us to take action:
- Donald Trump has appointed 150 anti-choice judges.
- Between 2011 to 2019, 425 abortion restrictions were enacted in states across the country.
- Some 25 states have enacted abortion bans.
- Planned Parenthood was forced by the Trump administration’s “gag rule” to withdraw from the Title X program. The rule prohibited doctors from counseling patients about abortion care. “Planned Parenthood won’t withhold medical education from women,” Rodriguez said. She explained that Planned Parenthood, with the help of donations, is continuing to provide care despite losing federal funds that enabled low-income women to receive birth control, cancer screening, STD testing, and other reproductive health care.
Missouri has used TRAP laws (targeted restrictions on abortion providers) to close down most abortion clinics in the state. Today only one is left, Rodriguez said. TRAP laws impose onerous, medically unnecessary standards for the physical plant, equipment, and staff of abortion clinics. Missouri limits access to abortion by requiring a 72-hour waiting period, medically inaccurate counseling, unnecessary pelvic exams, parental consent, and physicians’ hospital admitting privileges.
Planned Parenthood has sued the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services to stop the state’s “weaponizing” of inspections to deny licenses to abortion facilities. The court’s decision is expected in March. As it awaits the decision, Planned Parenthood has been proactive and built a state-of-the-art clinic in Illinois that can provide health care services to 18,000 patients annually there.
Rodriguez said young women are involved with Planned Parenthood. Her colleague Angie Postal said student groups in colleges and high schools across the region are attending lobby days, engaging in social media, marching, and donating. The audience applauded Rodriguez’s closing: “We’re fighting for every person to be able to make the best decision for herself without government interference.” She added, “I’m inspired by my daughter’s generation. Our job is to pave the way for them to take ownership over their bodies—or they will never be truly free.”
To take action: https://www.istandwithpp.org/take-action
Up Close and Personal: On the Front Lines of Gun Violence
At the December program, we remembered the 27 children who died as a result of a gun injury in St. Louis in 2019. The stories of these children were shared through posters displayed at the evening’s meeting. In addition, the event served as a vigil to remember the lives lost at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, CT.
St. Louis Children’s Hospital treats more patients with gun injuries than any children’s hospital in U. S. This is in part because the hospital treats youth until age 21, and even older in some cases, unlike most other children’s hospitals. The hospital covers a large area, including southern Illinois and southeast and southwest Missouri. Stu Durando, St. Louis Post-Dispatch writer and author of Under the Gun: A Children’s Hospital on the Front Line of an American Crisis, and Martin Keller, MD, associate professor of surgery and medical director of trauma at the hospital, shared the effects on the trauma team of treating so many young gun injury victims, including burnout and emotional distress. Dr. Keller shared the results of a five-year study of gunshot wounds among 255 patients ages 16 and under. Nearly a third of the shootings were unintentional, and of those, 82 percent occurred in the victim’s home. Forty-two percent of the unintentional shootings were self-inflicted, and another 38 percent were by siblings or friends. Dr. Keller said that in homes with guns, suicides are more successful. “It is not all violence. It is an unsecured gun problem,” he said. Adding to the challenge is the lack of preventative care and fear among many pediatricians about discussing gun safety directly with patients’ caregivers.
Kateri Chapman-Kramer, MSW, LCSW, program manager of Life Outside of Violence (LOV), shared some of the success and challenges in her work with victims and families after a violent injury. She explained that in addition to recovering from an injury, which is often accompanied by PTSD, victims of interpersonal violence often have other basic needs that obstruct their participation in the LOV program after recovery. Barriers include lack of transportation, lack of consistent phone service, and difficulty with trust. While limited in number, positive outcomes have been seen in individuals completing the program, which includes treatment, mentoring, case management, and family assistance. LOV is currently working to address the gap in the number of patients eligible for the program and the number who access the services and complete the year-long program. LOV was modeled after an existing Victims of Violence program and thanks to a data-sharing agreement with multiple hospital systems, is regional in nature.
Prescription for Education Equity in Missouri
A passionate advocate for Missouri public school students, especially those in disadvantaged districts, Inda Schaenen, MFA, PhD, works for changes that provide an environment in which all students can thrive. As a teacher in the Normandy School District, which lost state accreditation in 2013, she saw that many students dealing with psychosocial stressors such as poverty were unable to thrive. She imagined educational approaches that mitigated stress and were built on fundamentals of learning: curiosity, competent guidance, and time to practice. The district allowed her to launch the award-winning program Project Lab St. Louis as a “pilot project” for some seventh and eighth grade students. In Project Lab, students collaborate on projects developed together in an environment providing trust, uninterrupted time to “mess up,” and mutual respect.
Schaenen calls for broadening the Project Lab approach through innovative reforms to traditional education. She cited barriers to learning: bells that break up the day and interrupt learning, discipline practices that undermine the development of self- discipline, curricula that don’t respond to student and community concerns, and government-mandated accountability measures that reinforce students’ lack of hope that they can succeed. She emphasized the critical need for schools to mitigate students’ physical and emotional stress, which inhibits their ability to learn. For example, she taught students to relax and meditate, providing mats, music, and darkened rooms.
To make educational systems equitable, Schaenen urged the audience to:
• Understand how the Missouri method of funding schools through property taxes “automatically disadvantages” lower
• Learn the politics of public education in Missouri and demand student-centered curricula for all students.
• Support programs that focus on students’ holistic well-being during, before, and after school.
• Support transportation “in any way you can”—for example, driving a carpool.
For more information, see Dr. Schaenen’s most recent book, Speaking of Fourth Grade: What Listening to Kids Tells Us about Schools in America, an oral history drawn from interviews with more than 165 children from a wide range of Missouri schools.
Nonstop Onslaught: Fighting the Attack on Transgender Rights
Speaker: Sayer Johnson, co-founder and executive director, Metro Trans Umbrella Group (MTUG).
“It’s beautiful to be here, but it’s brutal to be here.” With those words, Sayer Johnson described his life’s journey from birth as a female to becoming a transgender man. Trans people face vitriol and violence constantly, he said. They contend with human rights violations and bias in housing, education, medical care, hiring and job security, military service, and public safety. Hate crimes and murder are on the rise, Johnson noted, and a recent U.S. study revealed that 41 percent of transgender or gender-nonconforming people have attempted suicide.
In Missouri, where employment and housing discrimination are legal, trans people often face homelessness. Because they are not accepted in most homeless shelters, Johnson established a MTUG shelter in a south St. Louis building. “We have to create our own system,” Johnson said, because “there are no services or options for the trans community.” Despite the difficulties of trans people, Johnson, a husband and father, spoke with humor and hope. He envisions St. Louis, with its good supply of inexpensive housing, becoming a leader in ending homelessness.
In addition to serving the homeless, MTUG’s mission includes providing visibility, advocacy, and education. MTUG sponsors an annual art show, a trans-spectrum conference, a number of support/discussion groups, educational training, and many more activities.
How can we help? Donate to the shelter to fund bus passes, toiletries, and food. Attend events and refer those in need to MTUG. To learn more: www.stlmetrotrans.org.
The Precariat ~ Life on the Edge: No Job Security, No Benefits
Speaker: Allan MacNeill is a professor of political economy in the Department of History, Politics, and International Relations at Webster University. His teaching and research interests focus on issues of economic inequality. Dr. MacNeill is a former union organizer who remains active in labor issues as a member of the Worker Rights Board of St. Louis Jobs with Justice.
Don’t be fooled when you hear that the U.S. economy is doing well. “We have obscene levels of inequality that we haven’t had in over a century,” Professor Allan MacNeill said. Most Americans are part of the “precariat”—people living in a precarious world where they have no job security, no predictable wages, and no benefits to fall back on. Politicians and others boast that the current high stock market, growth of the GDP (gross domestic product), and low unemployment rate indicate that our economy is booming. But, he said, these measures do not give an accurate picture of how people are really faring:
• “Rising stock prices don’t help many people pay rent or medical bills,”MacNeill said, because 84 percent of all stocks are owned by the wealthiest 1 percent.
• GDP measures only the value of goods and services that generate income. Unpaid labor (e.g., child and elder care) is not measured, so although the GDP has risen, the calculation does not recognize that quality of life is going down for those with unpaid jobs, mostly women.
• The often-quoted unemployment rate of 3.7 percent is artificially low because people who have dropped out of the labor force and are not actively looking for a job are not counted as unemployed. Women, many of whom are caregivers with difficult schedules, make up 70 percent of people who are not counted in the unemployment rate.
MacNeill cited projections indicating a decline in the quality of jobs that will be created in the next decade. Of the top 10 fastest-growing jobs, eight have a median pay in the $20,000 range and do not require a college education. These jobs traditionally have poor benefits and erratic schedules.
Where will this “precariat” trend lead? To greater dissatisfaction, anger, and insecurity? Or to creative possibilities that could lead to positive change? MacNeill suggested several possibilities: new occupations; jobs that allow flexible work schedules; programs like the proposed Green New Deal; and changes that include workers in decision making.