August 7, 2017
Last week was one of the most gratifying we have ever had at ArchCity Defenders. We didn’t file a lawsuit and we didn’t even go to court. We met a mom and her daughter who needed our help in an emergency. Her landlord told her he was putting her out in 24 hours and changing the locks. This is illegal for a number of reasons but as we brainstormed legal options we found, as we so often do, that the legal system isn’t designed to help poor people in the way they really need it in the moment they really need it.
We thought about a media strategy and realized that going to the press was going to be too slow to stop this. We knew we could just camp out at the apartment and then call the police but so often the police throw up their hands and say an illegal lockout is a civil matter.
After all that, we decided to ask folks to come out to support this mom and daughter. And people responded. Perfect strangers from the City of St. Louis showed up at 8:30 AM on Friday at another stranger’s house in the City to see if they could help. They showed up even though we only gave them 20 hours notice. They showed up even though nobody there knew each other and they showed up even though they didn’t know the mom or the daughter. A mom who is still grieving the death of her son at the hands of the St. Louis Police department showed up to express solidarity for this mom and daughter who was losing her home. And to be honest, we didn’t exactly have a plan besides showing up and trying to work together to stop this illegal act.
We didn’t know what would happen. I suppose we always knew we could just cut the locks off if the landlord went through with it but we didn’t even have bolt cutters laying around the office. Luckily, somebody offered to bring them.
The point is we knew the law couldn’t help these folks and we thought people could. And it worked. Just by showing up, we collectively stopped the illegal lockout. The landlord backed down. There was a lot of huffing and puffing but the landlord didn’t change the locks or throw these folks out on the street. But the people who showed up did even more. They passed the hat and came up with enough money for mom and daughter to get a good meal, clean their belongings, and stay Friday night in a hotel.
On Saturday morning, thanks to some incredible help from a heroic friend, the family moved into a 3 bedroom apartment for a month and we’re working to find permanent housing. We spent the rest of the weekend reaching out to the community for basic household items and delivered food, laundry, furniture and dishes to the new place.
The work to support these folks isn’t over. They are going to need more help. And there are 15 other people living in that building in terrible conditions who need help, too. But for one family, this all worked. It worked in part because, even though we’re lawyers, we accept the limitations of the legal system. It really worked because we know the power of people coming together to support someone in crisis.
How much can you give to fight for families like Je’re’s? Together we can prevent homelessness. With $6 billion in pending budget cuts to programs designed to prevent and end homelessness, we will need your support more than ever. Please donate today: https://igg.me/at/Q3xojBRkXeM
Z. Gorley, Communications Director at ArchCity Defenders