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Government, Politics & Issues

For Kim Daniel, A Summer Both Harrowing And Hopeful

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Bruce Seymour
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Kim Daniel with her Section 8 voucher outside the St. Louis Housing Authority office.

This story was produced in partnership with the Pulitzer Center. 

Kim Daniel had known Kyle Faulkner since he was 12 years old. Truth be told, she didn’t much like him at first. Kyle and his buddies would shoot hoops in the parking lot in Preservation Square where Daniel lives, sometimes with a ball, sometimes with rocks. Youngsters in the complex would move the portable hoop around the lot, but they often stationed it near Daniel’s parking space. At night when the kids went inside, Daniel would move the hoop somewhere else.

One afternoon, Daniel saw that Kyle and his friends had returned, moving the hoop within a few feet of her vehicle and started in as they had before. She asked them to stop. But then instead of shooting baskets, Kyle and his friends took the rocks anchoring the hoop “and threw them at the back of my vehicle and busted out the rear taillight,” Daniel recalled. “And I had only had my car for about four weeks at the time.”

That was three summers ago. This year, on Sunday, July 11, Kyle, age 15, became the victim of a broad-daylight drive-by shooting about 200 yards from Kim’s second-story apartment.

“I heard an argument, gunfire, and when I went to look out my window I saw a car back up and drive out of the area,” Daniel recalled.

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Richard H. Weiss
Kim Daniel on the balcony of her apartment in Preservation Square. She is pointing to the site about 200 yards away where 15-year-old Kyle Faulkner was killed on July 11 in a drive-by shooting.

“There were some girls down that way, and they started screaming, and people started running. Later, a neighbor came by and said, ‘It’s that little dude who was always messing with your vehicle.’ And, I was like, ‘Oh my god.’”

When police arrived, they found Kyle’s body riddled with bullets.

Shootings and mayhem have long been a part of Kim Daniel’s life in Preservation Square, a neighborhood a mile northwest of downtown. I have been staying in touch with her for 16 months now as part of Before Ferguson Beyond Ferguson’s 63106 Project.

Our nonprofit racial equity storytelling project has focused on families in the 63106 ZIP code during the pandemic, because researchers have identified the area as the region’s most problematic when it comes to the social determinants of health.

Daniel is 55 years old and has dealt with a congenital heart disorder all of her life that, at times, has taken her to death’s door.

There is also toxic stress to consider. Researchers have reported that exposure to such stressors as crime and violence “can disturb the immune, digestive, cardiovascular, sleep, and reproductive systems.”

Daniel has lived in Preservation Square since 2003. She remembers disturbances happening just every so often back then. But she said the atmosphere has grown progressively worse and seems to be peaking in the time of COVID.

In March 2020, a domestic dispute in a unit adjoining hers led to gunfire, with a bullet piercing her wall. Then came Kyle Faulkner’s death this summer, which rattled Daniel even more.

‘He could have been a different person’

She had grown to like Kyle, even though he had continued to harass her for a time after the basketball encounter. “Every time he would see me turning into the parking lot, he would chase me down with his bike or skid in front of my car,” she said. “But one day, he needed a ride somewhere and it was raining. And I said, ‘I’ll give you a ride.’ And, he said, ‘Oh,’ as if he was surprised at someone showing him some kindness. I didn’t just drop him off, I waited for him and brought him back to the complex.

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Richard H. Weiss
Kyle Faulkner’s friends and family created a memorial at the site of his killing.

“From that day forward, he made sure nobody harassed me at all. Not even him,” Daniel said.

Daniel saw that Kyle had leadership potential even though he was often up to no good. He was smart and quite genial with his peers. Kim could see from her balcony that Kyle had figured out how to get the Lime scooters running without paying. He and his friends would also break into cars and do donuts with them in the parking lot.

“With more guidance, he could have been a different person,” Daniel said.

After his death, Kyle’s friends and family set up a street memorial with candles, stuffed animals, balloons and personal effects as is so often done after homicides in the streets of St. Louis.

Daniel has not visited the memorial. She doesn’t feel that it’s safe to do so. In fact, she doesn’t even feel safe locked up in her home. Though she is on the second floor, Daniel knows someone might get it in their mind to clamber up onto her balcony and break in. So, she has shoved a heavy wooden pallet against the balcony door and hung a curtain so a would-be intruder cannot see inside. If daylight and fresh air must be sacrificed for safety, then so be it.

Housing help

As has so often been the case in Daniel’s life, fear rides in tandem with hope. Just after Kyle’s death, Daniel got an email that she had been waiting on for more than a decade. The St. Louis Housing Authority had declared her eligible for a Section 8 voucher.

Section 8 is one of many government housing programs for low-income residents, and it is in high demand. Recipients pay 30% of their income in rent, with the government paying the balance directly to the landlord. The voucher allows recipients to find a neighborhood and home of their choice as long as the landlord can meet government criteria for providing safe, well-maintained quarters.

But the safest communities in St. Louis and St. Louis County have few properties in the Section 8 program. Landlords in more upscale locales — known as High Opportunity areas — can expect to get rent far higher than low-income residents could afford even with the government subsidy. Moreover, many communities make it impossible for affordable housing developers to gain a toehold.

For instance, Ladue zoning ordinances bar multifamily housing. While it is against the law in the city, landlords are known to refuse vouchers from qualified residents. As the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported in 2019, advertisements in the city for rental properties would say “No Section 8” or “Section 8 not accepted.”

The ads were in violation of a city ordinance designed to expand housing choices for low-income residents. A report titled Locked Out/Locked In, from the Metropolitan St. Louis Equal Housing and Opportunity Council, asserted the city’s law was poorly enforced.

Still, Section 8 is wildly popular with low-income residents. Typically, applicants must wait years in a queue, as the Department of Housing and Urban Development has limited funds for the program. The St. Louis Housing Authority, which administers Section 8 in the city, only recently began accepting new applicants after a seven-year hiatus. Daniel had applied in 2011 and then again in 2014. She had pretty much given up hope.

When she finally got that email, she was at once amazed and elated.

It took her little more than a few hours to get online and go shopping for a new place to live. She quickly found a home on HotPads.com that seemed attractive. The two-story home in the Bevo neighborhood in south St. Louis featured a large backyard, a nice kitchen and a front porch where she could sit and chat with neighbors on either side or across the street.

And then, seemingly in a blink, the house was taken off the market, well before Daniel could get her voucher in hand.

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Bruce Seymour
Kim Daniel receives instructions concerning her Section 8 voucher from St. Louis Housing Authority staff members Myer Johnson, left, and Deborah Fowler.

That wouldn’t happen until Aug. 27, when Daniel drove to the Housing Authority office at 3520 Page Blvd. to pick up her certificate.

Two Housing Authority officials wearing masks met Daniel outside the building and sat with her at a picnic table as they went over the rules.

Although she already knew it, the officials reminded Daniel that she had 120 days to find a place to live. Otherwise, the voucher could be revoked and given to another applicant.

It would be hard to imagine that anyone else holding a voucher would act with a greater sense of urgency.

“There’s no sense of peace anymore” at Preservation Square, Daniel said. She said she will be looking for a single-family home. “I don’t want to share walls with anyone anymore,” Daniel said in an interview after getting her voucher. “I have heard way too many conversations, way too many fights. I want to be in a single-family home and hopefully this voucher would allow me to do that.

So this is like a golden ticket?

“Exactly.”

More mayhem

Just a few days later, Daniel learned that another young acquaintance and nearby resident, Andrew Brinkley, 19, had been arrested and charged in a bank robbery Aug. 28 in East St. Louis. The robbery had led to the shooting death of a security guard. Brinkley was arrested at his apartment in the 1900 block of North 13th Street, about six blocks from Daniel’s apartment.

“I counted him as one of my neighborhood sons,” Daniel said.

Then on Sept. 5, another shooting. I learned about it nearly in real time when Daniel sent me a series of texts beginning at 4:23 p.m. An hour earlier, Daniel heard shots fired coming from a few blocks away at 15th and Cochran Place. This time, less cautious than usual, she ran to the scene because she knew a lot of children were out that afternoon attending a Labor Day weekend party. She wanted to do what she could for the kids.

There she found another acquaintance with a bullet in his back, screaming in pain. “His grandmother and niece held him until the ambulance arrived,” Daniel recounted in one of the texts. “One of the children (at the event) saw him get shot. She would not stop crying and is waiting for her mom to pick her up.”

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The shooting victim at one time had been living in the unit adjacent to Daniel’s, the one from which the stray bullet had entered Daniel’s apartment.

“These events are very disturbing to me and wearing me emotionally thin,” Daniel texted. “Knowing these young people on a personal level gnarls at my conscience. I asked myself what more could I have done? After each incident, my hope seems to deteriorate just a little more.”

After the Labor Day weekend, Daniel’s search for a home began again in earnest. She is focusing her search south of Martin Luther King Boulevard and west of downtown, and also in St. Louis County. Recently, she spotted a home in Overland not far from where her father lives. He recently celebrated his 83rd birthday, and Daniel said the proximity would help her form a closer bond with him.

Though she is eager to find a home, Daniel may need most or all of the 120 days to find one. “Rental property goes so fast,” she texted. “I learned that HUD does not cover the security deposit or application fees and rental properties are requiring a security deposit equal to or twice the rental amount. Mind you application fees are non-refundable. I have also learned that many (landlords) request a renter’s salary be $2,000 a month or more. I do not (earn) $2,000 a month.”

“No rest for the weary,” I wrote back.

“LOL… Exactly!” she responded.

This is the fifth chapter in the story of Kim Daniel, who is coping with the pandemic in a neighborhood plagued by chronic illness and much shorter life spans than those in predominantly white neighborhoods. Daniel, 55, has lived with a congenital heart defect that has taken her to death’s door several times over the course of her life.

Before Ferguson Beyond Ferguson, a nonprofit racial equity project, is telling the story of families in 63106 one by one over the course of the pandemic. St. Louis Public Radio published the first chapter in Daniel’s life on April 28, 2020. You can find an archive of her stories and other family stories at https://beforefergusonbeyondferguson.org/63106-project/

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