Housing is a human right. And someone’s housing situation does not determine their worth.
My parents instilled those values in me from childhood. My dad, in particular, reinforced the inherent value of every person. He emphasized the importance of treating everyone with dignity and respect, regardless of their housing situation.
It wasn’t until I was older that I learned that, for my dad, that was personal.
Throughout his middle and highschool years, my dad, his four younger siblings, and my grandmother were caught in a cycle of housing instability after she and my grandfather separated.
They lived in weekly motels that they paid for, in advance, with cash. (Women could not have credit cards at the time.) I’m still not sure how Grandma fed five kids, including a teenage boy. Grandma is a force of nature, but I know that time was hard, even on her.
Because they moved around so much, the credits my dad earned in his high school classes didn’t all transfer from one school to the other. If they had, he would have been his high school valedictorian. He still went on to college, and eventually became a professor.
By all accounts he looked like he had things under control.
But sometimes they lived out of a car.
I’m proud of him and of my grandmother. Their resilience inspires me.
But their experience is not rare.
Housing insecurity is more common than people like to admit. Even our Congresswoman, Cori Bush, was once unhoused and living out of her car.
About one in six of our 18,500 SLPS schoolkids are unhoused, or in a housing insecure situation.
Maybe that surprises you because the news tells us that the economy is humming and unemployment is low. But too many have been left behind. Wages don’t keep up with the rising cost of rent, healthcare, and childcare. Employers switch schedules or cut hours. People get sick.
Pretty soon, the best option is a car, or a couch, or a corner.
That’s not a personal failing. It’s just someone doing the best they can to get by.
But too many in our state and local governments vilify these people — many of them moms with kids, just like my grandma was — who are struggling with housing instability.
That was made clear when earlier this summer, Governor Parson signed a bill that will criminalize sleeping on state property.
Imagine having the ability to marshall the state’s or City’s resources to lift people up. And then, rather than extending a hand to help, choosing to push them further into the mud by putting a citation on their record like Parson’s law will.
Or encouraging people to look the other way by penalizing the good samaritan who wants to give you a bottle of water on the hottest day of the year, or a warm blanket on the coldest.
That is not leadership.
That is cowardice.
It’s a coward’s path to turn away from someone who needs help.
It’s a knee-jerk reaction that’s focused on short term optics, not the long-term solutions that we need.
It’s hard work to find solutions that will help both our unhoused and housed neighbors, but it’s work that needs to be done. I’m ready to do it.
That’s why I support an Unhoused Bill of Rights. People shouldn’t be criminalized for lack of housing. They should have access to quality services and the help they need to get back on their feet.
It’s why I support Tenant’s Bill of Rights that keeps landlords from refusing a tenant solely because of past evictions, race, gender identity, and other non-discrimination rules, and gives better protections for renters who are living in unsafe conditions.
It’s also why I support right-to-council legislation to ensure that all people going through eviction court have proper representation.
It’s why I support Inclusionary Zoning programs, which encourage developers to set aside a percentage of new housing units to be affordable. With Inclusionary Zoning, we can continue promoting development while making neighborhoods accessible to all St. Louisans.
It’s why I support a living wage, affordable healthcare, and services for victims of domestic violence — all reasons that people like my grandmother and my father have found themselves without steady housing … and in need of steady leadership.
There’s a lot that we can do here locally to help our neighbors, and make sure we have a City that works for everyone.
Let’s do that work together.
(potential closer or P.S.)
When you are voting, consider which candidate has shown a willingness to actually tackle the tough issues, and which one is more interested in papering over problems.