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Across the River

Posted By Josh, Mar 24, 2009

View of river and East St. Louis from the ArchAs I peered through the tiny windows at the top of the famous St. Louis Arch, I could see across the river and into the distance that is East St. Louis. The next morning we woke up and drove over the bridge and into a city that is a world apart from where we had been the previous evening.

We arrived at Land of Lincoln Legal Assistance Foundation where we spoke with two attorneys who have worked for the organization for over 20 years. They were extremely welcoming and informed us about the amazing legal work that they are doing for the impoverished people in East St. Louis. One of the attorneys told us about one of her cases where the mayor of East St. Louis was held in contempt by the court for his negligence in ignoring a large lake of sewage waste adjacent to an apartment complex, which was causing health problems for the tenants. We were happy to find out that the area has been cleaned up after the case was decided in favor of the tenants. They also spoke about the systemic problems in East St. Louis, beginning with education; only 10% of all juniors at the local high school had met the state standards. It was also mentioned that problems across the river are often blamed on East St. Louis because it is an easy scapegoat. This only adds to the stigma surrounding the city, leading to ignorance and unfounded fears about the area. Based on what I had been told about the area, I was under the impression that I should lock the doors and stare straight ahead. This was not the case at all. If anything, the sense of fear that I thought I would be experiencing was overridden by a sense of sadness for the people living in this ghost town. I use the phrase ghost town because as we drove through parts of the city, we saw buildings that were falling apart, roofs caving in, and businesses that were boarded up with chains on the doors. The sad part is that there are people actually living in the houses with roofs caving, and in a community that appears to have been abandoned by much of the world outside of the city limits.

As we left the meeting to do each of our projects, we had a better sense of the community that we are here to help. It is probably not the poorest city in the nation, but it is a place that is constantly ignored and needs help from any who are willing. We drove back across the river at the end of the day reflecting on the urban blight and the work that needs to be done in cities just like East St. Louis all over the country. In the two full days that we have been here, I have thoroughly enjoyed being in the company of my fellow HALOers who are dedicated to making the most out of this experience in every way possible.