“I think ultimately today what I really want to push us to do is to acknowledge the failure of the status quo.” said Alderwoman Sonnier during a meeting for the Unhoused Bill of Rights at St. Louis City Hall Oct. 1, 2023.
TRANSCRIPT:Alderwoman Sonnier St. Louis City Hall
There was someone who was supposed to make it tonight, could not make it tonight, and I told her that I would still speak on her behalf and just kind of mention her story. And so she’s a mother and she works in health care and she has a 15 year old son and she’s been choosing to stay on the streets for about four months now because she cannot find a place that will accept her in her teenage son. This is someone who gets up and goes to work every day. This is someone who looks like you and I. If you saw her, you would not. She does not fit into the typical stigmas of unhoused, but cannot be served. And during my time on the Board of Education, I saw these folks over and over and over again. Majority of our unhoused population does not look like the people that we see in media or the people that we see in tents.
Poor people are worthy of public dollars, and so I’ll just put that on record. That part of having an intentional encampment is saying that poor people are worthy of public dollars. The majority of the unhoused are the working poor. So it is their tax money that is coming and being reinvested into them. Is it going to be an easy process? Is it going to be simple? Is it going to be without complications?
We are going to have to decommission another encampment. That is going to happen. I don’t know if it will happen next week. I don’t know if it will happen next month. But it is going to happen. And so the least we could do is have a process that is clear for everyone involved. When we talk about safe camping areas, I think one of the silent messages I keep hearing people say, “Well, what does that cost? Where is the money going to come from?”
And so for me, when we’re talking about intentional encampment, that is the place where you can go. And if you have been a person who has had a chronic mental health illness and unable to get access to treatment, if you are a person who’s been an alcoholic, whatever your case may be, you can go and you can start to get stabilization. Because a lot of what I didn’t hear mentioned from my time as a mental health advocate, I would work with people who went into unhoused without a substance use issue. But if you’re on the streets day after day without housing, without food, without shelter, that drug becomes your coping mechanism. And it seems more and more like a better option. You feel like you don’t have anything else.
We need to have that same sense of earnest for our unhoused population. Many of us have said and we’ll all agree that poverty is the father of crime. That as long as you have have nots, you are going to have issues in your community. This unhoused issue affects people who are housed. I’ve got emails from constituents. Hey, all the women. I don’t know what else to do, but there’s someone unhoused in the home next to me. I don’t want to call the police on them, but it’s becoming a safety hazard. Oftentimes, you know, you can contact different entities, but the reality is oftentimes there’s no capacity. There’s no option.Alderwoman Sonnier St. Louis City Hall