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Posted By Eric Yau, Mar 23, 2009

Police car parked next to stop signIt must have been 2.5-3 years since I was last in East. St. Louis, IL, a place that orientation staff branded as a "no-go" place on my first day as an undergraduate at WashU. East St. Louis has always been an intriguing place to me because it was once (or may be still is) the city in the US with the highest crime rate, but I didn't feel threatened when I was there. Although incidence of crime in E. St. Louis is debatable, the widespread poverty in the city is undeniable. The city has always been lined with rows of dilapidated and abandoned buildings, and it really makes you feel like being in a 3rd world country driving through E. St. Louis.

When E. St. Louis came up as a possible destination for the HALO service trip this year, I was excited to vote for it because I knew the community really needed help and that it would be great if HALO could contribute to make a difference in any way possible. Months of preparation finally paid off when 17 enthusiastic students departed for East Louis. On the way there, I was surprised to learn from the guy (a St. Louis native) sitting next to me that E. St. Louis was at one time a prosperous and booming city. He told me that African-Americans who migrated from the south to E. St. Louis in the late 1800's actually brought money with them to start up businesses, and many people were either middle-class or affluent bankers or businessmen. However, there were riots in the 1920's that totally drove people away and ruined the local economy. No efforts were made to revitalize the city, and it is still one of the poorest cities in the country.

At the Land of Lincoln Aid Organization briefing today, it was shocking to learn of the corruption, housing fraud and the ways in which corporations get around the law to avoid paying taxes to the City of East St. Louis. Driving around the city, its situation has gone from bad to worse. Many houses were abandoned, some people were living in houses that appeared to have been burned or were clearly uninhabitable. We saw mostly fast-food restaurants (probably other restaurants find it hard to stay in business with higher food prices). What was most ridiculous was that instead of repairing faulty traffic lights, the city presumably decides to just put a stop sign at crossings and intersections. This best illustrates the approach in solving E. St. Louis' problems - solving problems with band-aid solutions rather than addressing the root of the problem.

It is really time that stakeholders in East St. Louis "STOP" evading the problem and really "HELP" address them once and for all, so residents of E. St. Louis can have a decent standard of living that others across the country enjoy.