I am the Reverend Barbie Klick, manager of Trinity Food Ministry at Trinity Episcopal Church in the Central West End. I’m also a deacon in the Episcopal Diocese of Missouri. I also live in Ward 7 in Gravois Park, South City. I work with and live amongst those citizens who are unhoused and those who are in danger of becoming unhoused.
Poverty, as we all know it, is a razor-thin edge. A week-long bout with the flu can mean a loss of a job and trigger a swift change from being safely housed to suddenly unhoused. We kid ourselves if we think we are exempt. The reality of being homeless is absolutely terrifying. I see it often.
Where to sleep or feel safe is an immediate cause for alarm, yet that’s just the beginning. Where is one to get a drink of water, our food, or even a place to go to the bathroom? How can a person stay safe? It’s so easy to recognize a person who has recently become homeless. There is that panic that just covers their entire face. Becoming homeless is traumatizing. And if six to eight hours of sleep each night is necessary to our health and well-being, what does that predict for someone who has no place to sleep except with their back against the wall or under a stairwell or behind a dumpster? The reality is that the current system as it exists is a failure. Those shelters that have opened are inadequate. The process needs an overhaul. It also needs compassion.
As we saw today, there are more than 1,500 unhoused people existing, not living, existing in our area. The need for this overhaul is immediate and it’s vital to saving lives. There are vulnerable teenagers who have been put out of their homes and are in extreme danger of being trafficked for sex, for drugs, for both. Fathers are separated from their wives and their children because the mother and the children are allowed to stay with relatives while the father is not. Our elders are found throughout the city with no shelter, no food, no water, and inadequate clothing.
In reality, we should be ashamed. Our dogs are welcomed at local restaurants, outdoor restaurants, while people are not. People who are hungry, people who need to go to the bathroom, are simply want to wash their hands. Even our dogs are allowed the crumbs beneath the table. There are uncounted numbers of mothers with children who live in their vehicles. And as we saw earlier, 20% of our St. Louis public school students are experiencing homelessness right now. How can a child succeed in school when the basic human needs of security, safety, water, food, warmth and rest?