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The Force is Strong in St. Cloud by Judy Foster

January 25, 2016 5:02 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

In the fall of 2013, the Social Justice committees of both UU congregations in St. Cloud (Unitarian Universalist Fellowship and Spirit of Life Church) joined forces to find a joint project that would allow us to live out our UU faith values in our community and contribute to local social change. We conducted a joint social justice survey of both congregations. In November 2013, we held a joint congregational meeting at which we considered three issues that had emerged from the surveys: labeling of GMO products, school bullying, and justice for previously incarcerated people. After discussion, we voted and chose to focus on Justice for Previously Incarcerated People (which intersects with such issues as racial equity, housing and homelessness, and employment discrimination).

Since then we have held monthly meetings, networked with other groups working on the same issue, hosted a joint congregational presentation by Emily Baxter of the “We Are All Criminals” Project in the Twin Cities, examined St. Cloud ordinances that affect landlords and housing applicants, and eventually decided to focus our efforts on housing access for previously incarcerated people.

Most recently we have partnered with the St. Cloud Area Regional Human Rights Commission Working Group on Housing and Homelessness, the St. Cloud Coalition for Homeless Men (which is leading the effort to bring tiny houses to St. Cloud), a local Homeless Concerns group, and Mid-Minnesota legal Aid.

In addition to supporting such initiatives as establishing a Resource Center for the Homeless and bringing Homeless Housing to St. Cloud, we are having conversations with the city about (1) reducing rental fees for landlords willing to rent to those with a criminal record, and (2) amending zoning and square footage ordinances to accommodate tiny houses.

In the last two years we have evolved from starry-eyed, well-intentioned do-gooders with little knowledge about local barriers to housing access, especially for those in re-entry from incarceration, to better informed, more strategic activists with a focused plan of action.

We have been practicing with our light sabers and have been learning to empower ourselves with the Force of our UU faith and values. Just call us the UU Jedi in training! 

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