“Poverty is not a crime, it’s a human rights issue” – Kris Wade, Executive Director and Founder of The Justice Project
Miss X is a 64 year old clinically diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic with frequent psychotic episodes. When members of The Justice Project met her while doing outreach at a local meal program/food pantry, they learned she had been chronically homeless and living in a homeless shelter for 10 years. This shelter was illegally taking her Supplemental Security Income and telling her payee that Miss X was receiving case management, mental health care, meals, and had her own room – nothing was further from the truth.
The Justice Project is an organization that uses a model of long term support and compassionate advocacy to build relationships with women in poverty and partner with them as they navigate various legal systems. They nurture personal relationships with their constituents, and also encourage peer to peer relationships using a non-judgmental, trust building, strengths based approach that is humanizing and lets the women know The Justice Project will support them as long as they choose to be engaged in the program.
This year, The Justice Project instituted a one-on-one budgeting program that helps women utilize their limited resources better. As they learn to budget they are also helping other women learn to do the same. These kinds of one-on-one programs and relationships support women taking the necessary steps to build the lives they want.
But Kris Wade, the Executive Director and founder, and others involved in The Justice Project know that personal relationships with the women aren’t enough to change systems. The Justice Project is also concerned with generating greater understanding within the systems that are in place to help women experiencing poverty, which is why they build relationships with other community organizations and individuals in positions of power in the community. The Justice Project partners with the local Juvenile and Family Court services providing informational trainings for judges and prosecutors on understanding and working with system challenged women and girls in poverty (including transgender women). They are also members of the Missouri Department of Corrections Re-entry Program community advisory board and meet quarterly with the police chief of Kansas City, Mo. advising him on how their participants are being treated by police out in the streets. Kris Wade tells us, “Once system folks understand the challenges of our constituents as a human rights issue, and are able to see their progress, they become more amenable to working in better ways with the women.”
Most recently, The Justice Project was appointed to the Kansas Attorney General’s Human Trafficking Advisory and Policy Board. This board is composed of state legislators, law enforcement, court personnel and service providers and helps create options and policy regarding prostituted and other trafficked persons. Because many of the women they advocate for and partner with are survivors of sex trafficking and prostitution, this is a critical place for The Justice Project to have a voice. The Justice Project members are active participants in the Coalition Against Human Trafficking, which was spearheaded by the United States Attorney’s office in the Kansas City, Mo. area. They routinely partner with FBI and local police on trafficking and prostitution stings, providing ongoing onsite support for recovered trafficked women and girls.
The Justice Project also does outreach to at-risk youth, and constituents often participate in this effort. This has helped both the young people who are at risk and the women who are participating in the outreach program see that even the most challenged individual can make great progress – the kind of progress Miss X was able to make thanks to The Justice Project’s compassionate, human rights approach that tackles the issue on both a personal and a systemic level.
Over time, The Justice Project built trust with Miss X. Eventually they got her out of the shelter that was exploiting her and she was able to see a compassionate psychiatrist who prescribed psychiatric medication injections that did not require Miss X to take oral meds (which she had a hard time remembering to do). As her mental illness became better controlled, she gained control of her life. With the help of The Justice Project, Miss X partnered with the nonprofit organization that serves her, and she was able to get into an apartment where she has successfully been living on her own since last October.
The Justice Project also guided Miss X through the social service system, and she now has food stamps and supplemental health insurance in addition to Medicare. She is also now involved in a women’s crafting group where she is building friendships and has the opportunity to be productive and creative. The work of The Justice Project has caused the initiation of an investigation into the unethical and criminal practices of the shelter that is ongoing.