By Janice K. Neal-Vincent, Ph.D.,
Margaret Walker Center presented Evicted: An Exhibition June 28-October 3, 2021 in Jackson State University’s Johnson Hall Art Gallery. Supported by The Mississippi Humanities Council, the exhibition revealed the devastating impact of evictions on America.
Experts engaged in ongoing conversations regarding housing and economic insecurity, COVID-19 and eviction, the impact of eviction on children and families, and citizens’ rights within the law. Climaxing these conversations was The Intersection of Policy, Activism and Economic Well-Being Tuesday, September 28.
In their virtual discussion, panelists (like those in previous discussions) had invested interest in the well-being of Mississippi residents. They contended that during the COVID-19 pandemic many are on the brink of homelessness, inadequate education and inadequate funds.
Matthew Campbell, field organizer for the Mississippi NAACP, succinctly stated that the state has one of the highest housing problems compared to the rest of the country. He said, “Over 28,000 Mississippians fear that they will be evicted within the next month. Fifty two percent of those Mississippians have children.”
Backing his claim, Campbell noted that inadequate housing or the lack of housing impacts health and educational outcomes. “Adults and children suffer from health outcomes. Communities of color are more likely to be evicted, and women are more likely [than are men] to be evicted,” he said.
Gwen Bouie-Haynes, executive director of The National Association of Social Workers – Miss. Chapter, noted that underserved communities are greatly impacted. “We’ve seen persons with disabilities. The visually impaired may not have the visual capacity to fill out an application. This is a crisis. It is also a human life crisis and a public health crisis that [is troublesome].”
Bouie-Haynes added that social workers found both strength and stress within communities of color. Many are raising questions such as: “Will I have a place to stay?” “How will I meet the utility bill?”
The state of Mississippi, said Bouie-Haynes, has received funding for rental assistance to insure that people have access to shelter.
“There is a wide wealth gap. Long term consequences of evictions will occur. Mississippi is one of the states with strict eviction laws. People can be judged and removed from their properties on the same date, contributed Diane Standaert, director of Hope Policy Institute. She went on to say that when people are evicted, the blemish remains on their credit report for 7 years. So barriers of eviction interfere with how a person or family rises above the eviction problem.
Campbell maintained that though thousands across Mississippi are hurting, 3 rental programs were allotted $200 million. Hinds County received $7 million, and Harrison County received $6 million. “We’ll continue to identify strategies and ways for communities to receive their funds and move with urgency,” he claimed.
In her assertion Standaert claimed that both tenants and landlords can benefit from the $200 million as the problem is “not unsolvable.” “We want to make sure people have the ability to exercise their rights in court. We’re thankful to the housing community of Mississippi and available attorneys for people who face eviction.”
Calling for proactive thinking and strategizing, Campbell argued that a lot of people are in need of relief. He then charged Mississippi with failing to utilize resources that have been granted for the residents. So “this program is a short term fix. Once the money is gone, it’s gone. There is a shortage of 42,000 affordable rental units.”
Bouie-Haynes mentioned great opportunities that the state has for the welfare of the state’s residents: “We do not want one single family to end up in a homeless situation. We want to make sure that people stay in their homes that they consider their safety net.”
Social workers have reached across communities and organizations which further demonstrates resiliency.
Looking at community leaders was a cry that Bouie-Haynes stressed. Having empowerment within their environs carries weight. The executive director specified social workers, legislators and faith-based workers within the leadership sphere.
Campbell and Standaert concurred that the most effective way for allotted dollars to change community is to be in community.
“Make sure people have what they need before a crisis emerges. We want to make sure there are policies in place [to prevent homelessness and loss of income],” Standaert added.
Campbell cautioned panelists to remember that the allotted funds cannot be used for non-profits, and they can only be given to state agencies. The money, however, “will be around until 2025.”
Panelists agreed that what is needed is one voice that speaks on behalf of the citizenry. “These are tax payers’ dollars, and the public has ownership to hold officials accountable,” claimed Standaert.
“It takes collective voices to make sure the money is distributed. We are the voices as organizations within the community who have a commitment and desire to insure that money is properly disbursed across the state,” quipped Bouie-Haynes.
“An organization is a collection of individuals across the state that use their voices as one. As community advocates, we are accountable by reflecting those who have interest in our work,” Campbell concurred.
The program’s moderator was Robby Luckett, director of JSU’s Margaret Walker Center.
This conversation was sponsored in part with a grant from the Mississippi Humanities Council.
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