Adopt-A-Family faces various challenges in aiding Catherine Street victims

Starkville Strong originated their Adopt-A-Family initiative as a way for members of the community to get together at Christmas time and provide gifts for families in need. Host families would ask the adopted families for their interests and provide them with gifts. However, in the wake of the Catherine Street Apartment evictions, the need for the Adopt-A-Family initiative sprouted into more than a Christmas giving event. The mission of Adopt-A-Family adapted to provide the evicted Catherine Street Apartment residents with the help and support they needed during the time of the evictions. Members have helped tenants find new apartments while also learning more about their rights and paperwork that is involved during the process.

Handling the Catherine Street Apartment evictions proved to be an overwhelming task for Starkville Strong, so they enlisted the help of other organizations within the community. Organizations such as Loving Our Community Sufficiently (L.O.C.S), a grassroots organization that developed to meet the needs of the underserved in the community, and the Oktibbeha County Chapter of the NAACP both stepped up to the plate to help provide the evicted tenants with support. But even with the help of these organizations, the group still faced many obstacles they had to overcome. 

One of these obstacles was the guidelines and expectations for the host. The partnership between the host and the evicted family is not a financial adoption. Rather, the host acts as a person who is willing to answer questions, do research and explain things that the evicted family might not understand about the process. Any financial assistance is solely through Starkville Strong and the other host organizations. 

At first, L.O.C.S was told they would receive donations from local churches to provide their family with new furniture. But when no donations came, L.O.C.S. had to rely on their own network of donors to receive enough donations to provide their host family with new furniture. Judge Williams, president of L.O.C.S, discussed what they contributed per their guidelines and expectations. 

"At first, Starkville Strong reached out and said they might need some help and asked if we would be interested in adopting a family," Williams said. "So they did a lot of the paperwork and we stepped in and assisted with finding the family somewhere to stay and getting them into a better living condition."

Another obstacle the groups faced was availability issues. There are still multiple people from the evictions that are unable to find homes, and that is where involvement with the community took a steep incline. The group realized just how bad the affordable housing crisis has affected a city like Starkville, and just how terrible the conditions of section eight housing conditions are. Many of the tenants lived in conditions conducive to water damage, mold and bugs. As a result, the group began speaking at Board of Alderman meetings and to the mayor to make sure the public knew about what was going on with the eviction process. 

Yulanda Haddix, president of the Oktibbeha County Chapter of the NAACP, discussed the issues they have been having. 

"There is an abundance of resources in the Starkville community, but underserved communities have never been seen as important," Haddix explained. "It's not that we lack housing, because there are people who say they want the underserved in their communities. The issue is that we live in a college town where underserved communities are not welcome. These communities end up being forgotten and the people end up in dilapidated environments." 

The most significant obstacle the group faced was getting the victims of the evictions to trust the members from the different organizations. With the tenants already in very vulnerable positions, it was crucial to provide them with a trustworthy support system to rely on.

Brandi Herrington, the executive director of Starkville Strong, spoke on the difficulty of building trust.

"If they know about Starkville Strong and our reputation or if they've ever talked to anybody that Starkville Strong has helped, that's important. If they haven't, I try to manage that into that direction. I have a Facebook group chat where I talk to about 80 of our clients, where I post jobs, ask them how they're doing and talk about other stuff, and I try to put them in touch with someone from the group," Herrington said. "It's just like with the students I used to teach, they didn't trust me for about the first week of having them and I just try to set an example and be consistent with my behavior."

Providing the tenants with trustworthy organization members proved to work out in their favor as they have been able to help 25 evicted tenants. One tenant expressed her gratitude for the organizations. 

"They were very helpful to me," a former resident of Catherine Street Apartments said. "They really did come through for us, for all of the people over there. They stood by me and they beared with me until I found somewhere to stay." 

However, other tenants have not been so lucky. Haddix also discussed how previous tenants have reached out to her because they had nowhere else to go. Many were sleeping on park benches or in laundromats. It brings into question the 12-million dollar streetscape project that the Board of Alderman approved earlier this year. With Starkville citizens sleeping in parks and laundromats, some are questioning whether the resources could be better allocated to combat the injustices the Catherine Street tenants are facing. 


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