While most students will be spending the next two weeks studying for finals, one freshman will be working to raise $150,000 to open a homeless shelter in her home city of St. Louis.
College freshman Mackenzie Morrison is helping to open a new homeless shelter for women and children in St. Louis after one of the city’s largest homeless shelters was shut down in April.
“No one else is trying to solve this issue,” Morrison said. “I’m in Philadelphia calling these people at city hall in St. Louis and no one has any answer ... no one’s been specifically appointed to tackle the issue of the shelter closing.”
New Life Evangelistic Center, a shelter that housed around 300 people, was closed down two weeks ago. According to a report, the shelter was extremely overcrowded. Its original permit stated that the shelter had a maximum occupancy of 35 people.
When the shelter was closed, its residents were displaced into a temporary shelter that only had 48-hours-notice to prepare for the women. When the women arrived there were no hygiene packs, each person had only one set of clothes and one light blanket to sleep in the 60 degrees gym. This temporary shelter will be closed down on May 15, though.
“There’s 60 to 70 people who will be displaced on May 15,” Morrison said. “How are we going to meet the needs of these people who will not have any place to go? And we said what if [All Among Us] opens their own shelter.”
AAU is a nonprofit organization that Morrison helped get off the ground two-and-a-half years ago. Since then, the group has been serving the homeless in the St. Louis area by distributing clothing, food and other items once a week.
Given that St Louis does not currently have room for women and children in the small, existing shelter, the AAU plans for their new shelter to house 60 to 70 women and children, Morrison said. The organization also hopes the shelter can operate 24 hours a day, and accepts people who are homeless, as well as those who have drug and alcohol addictions or criminal records.
But the group has run into some problems with funding, Morrison said. Three or four of their donors, who make up 60 percent of their funds, pulled out of the project in March after someone on the board of the organization made a “pro-liberal” statement on Facebook, she explained.
Now, Morrison and AAU are on a time crunch to raise the $150,000 in the two weeks.
“This can’t not work, if we can’t raise the funds, we will have 40 to 45 women on the street of St. Louis,” Executive Director of AAU Cathryn Shaw said. “The city of St. Louis had promised them housing, and then that promise was taken away”
Lydia Ruffin, who has been spearheading this project, said this new shelter is essential for the community.
“I think it’s one of the most important things in St. Louis, there’s a huge need,” Ruffin said. “It’s kind of a big project but I think it’s doable, it’s just getting the word out. If a lot of people give a little bit, we can get where we need to be.”
Morrison said she first became involved with shelters through working with Shaw.
“Cathryn would bring me on runs to go and talk to people since I was 9-years-old,” Morrison said. “It became a very normal experience that happened every other weekend.”
The relationships that Morrison formed through her runs and other work with AAU she says has truly impacted her life.
“Seeing how [people my own age] navigated everything and had to deal with all these issues ... like [my friend Darnisha and I] both had to take the ACT and she didn’t take it because she didn’t have a pencil,” Morrison said. “We shared so many experiences but had such different opportunities.”
Shaw said that there are so many people like Darnisha whose situations depend on have a place to go on the 15th. Many of the women have never been in a shelter before and are not homeless but are “fleeing horrific circumstances.”
“My wish is that we make All Among Us a sustainable organization so we can meet the needs of providing antibiotics or providing safety for these women,” Shaw said. “These women really are at risk they don’t have a place to go, they don’t have a plan B.”
Morrison said that giving to the homeless community doesn’t mean you have to open a shelter across the country, though.
“Any of us going to Penn has a huge educational advantage,” Morrison said. “It’s super easy to get involved there’s so many opportunities, especially in Philadelphia.”
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