Charity Vs. Justice
Charity and justice are often described in opposition to one another – charity is social service, and justice is social change. Charity meets an immediate need, while justice seeks to address the root causes of the need. Mary’s Pence highly values funding women’s organizations working for justice. Lately, though, we’ve been thinking about charity and justice less as two sides of a coin and more as a continuum, where charity informs justice work, and the justice work seeks to reduce those who need to be served by charity. The Justice Project, a three time Mary’s Pence grantee working with marginalized women in Kansas City, Missouri is a good example of an organization that spans the continuum, meeting the immediate needs of women in crisis and also working to change the policies that cause the crisis in the first place.
The Justice Project is a survivor-led organization that works with women who are slipping through the cracks of unjust and confusing systems. The women come to the justice project often bearing the weight of multiple traumas including homelessness, incarceration, poverty, illiteracy, mental illness, HIV/AIDS, and abuse. Eighty percent of women served by The Justice Project have been sexually exploited through prostitution. The Justice Project also aids many transgender and gender-variant women through their various programs and support.
Mary’s Pence granted to The Justice Project in the spring of 2014, fall of 2015, and fall of 2016, funding various efforts that spread across the continuum of charity and justice which all have served to increase the dignity of the women they work with.
The Justice Project staff and volunteers do daily street outreach as well as outreach once a week at a food pantry. They pass out hygiene products, snacks, socks, underwear, hand warmers, as well as materials on their programs. Outreach is an opportunity to begin to build trusting relationships, and is the primary way that they connected with the 60 women they worked with long term during the time Mary’s Pence provided support. But they also connect with hundreds more who, when they are ready or when they need to, can turn to The Justice Project for help. While the outreach work that The Justice Project does meets immediate and short-term needs, it is the first touchpoint for a long-term solidarity relationship.
Emergency Assistance and Client Care
The Justice Project builds trusting relationships with their clients who choose to participate in their programs. Women who are ready to take the next steps with The Justice Project are supported with food, clothing, emergency safe shelter, medical copays, bus passes and other transportation costs used to attend court or other appointments. As the women move toward self-sufficiency, The Justice Project assists with household set-up costs including rent deposits and paying off old utility bills. During the time that Mary’s Pence funded The Justice Project, they helped nine chronically homeless women gain their own homes, and found gender respectful transitional living for four women who were HIV positive and transgender.
There are unaffordable fees associated with retrieving key documents needed to navigate the social justice and social service systems including birth certificates, state IDs and copies of police reports and depositions, transcripts, and medical or mental health records. Many of the women are court ordered to obtain a GED but cannot afford the $50 fee. The Justice Project covers the cost of these fees so the women can move through the system more smoothly. Staff and volunteers at The Justice Project also act as liaisons between the women and police, courts, corrections, and social services and encourage them to become responsible partners in their restoration. On the surface, providing fees certainly leans toward charity. But by ensuring that women can move more smoothly through these systems, advocating for them and teaching them along the way to advocate for themselves, the women become increasingly empowered.
The budgeting program was a new effort by The Justice Project in 2014 that works with women who receive income through disability or Social Security benefits, or who have Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) or food stamps, to help them learn how to manage these resources most effectively. It also helps them work with banks, social security, and other systems that can be difficult to navigate. This program teaches the women how to take responsibility and puts them in charge of their resources, rather than providing for them. It promotes a long-term change by teaching a skill they will be able to apply and build upon in the future.
During the time that Mary’s Pence funded The Justice project, three women became employed. This was a first for any of The Justice Project’s clients. They are able to use the skills they learned during the budgeting program with their new income. Additionally, women who have received the budgeting training become the teachers who then share their knowledge with other women. This approach gives the women leadership roles and encourages responsibility while reinforcing the training.
Prevention and System Education
Representatives of The Justice Project serve on the Kansas Attorney General’s Policy and Advisory Board and the United States Department of Justice Coalition Against Human Trafficking. This provides the platform to ensure voices of their constituents are heard and to affect policy changes. They provide regular trainings to police and other officials throughout Kansas and Missouri about harm reduction strategies, best practices for dealing with victims, and working with transgender women and understanding their unique challenges.
The Justice Project also created a “John School” model, which focuses on prevention by addressing the buyer side of trafficking. By teaching perpetrators who buy sex about the damage they are doing, and increasing their understanding of trafficking and the experience of survivors, they are less likely to continue buying sex. Education and prevention done in this way puts the responsibility on the perpetrators and those who are in positions of power within the system to make changes. Only when people from all parts of an unjust system – those in power, those who are complicit, and those most deeply affected – are working for change, can change happen.
The work The Justice Project does spans the continuum between charity and justice, direct service and education/advocacy. Each piece serves to strengthen another. Without doing outreach on the streets every day, the staff cannot amplify those women’s voices and work to create effective policies. Without paying off debts and fees, the women will never get ahead. Likewise they can never get ahead if they don’t have the skills to navigate systems for themselves, manage their own budgets, or advocate on their own behalf. And if those in power never understand the reality of the daily challenges so many clients of The Justice Project face, women will keep falling through the cracks of the system. By working from a variety of angles, The Justice Project is deliberately and effectively dismantling the barriers that prevent the most vulnerable women from navigating beyond their current crises.
Learn more about Mary’s Pence Grants.