CARBONDALE — Southern Illinoisan staff gathered Saturday at the Varsity Center to discuss its work in Cairo and its commitment to community reporting.

At the event sponsored by the paper, reporters Molly Parker and Isaac Smith, as well as digital editor Alee Quick, participated in a town hall forum, taking questions from nearly 75 attendees about the work the paper has done reporting on the housing crisis in Cairo Illinois and discussing its philosophy of reporting. However, most of the conversation was between attendees.

The Southern's investigative work has uncovered years of fiscal mismanagement that led to deteriorating housing conditions and an insolvent housing authority in Alexander County. In April, the Department of Housing and Urban Development announced that all families living in the Elmwood and McBride housing complexes in Cairo would need to move, with HUD offering relocation assistance.

There was also a screening of the recently updated short documentary People Still Live Here, produced by The Southern — reporter Isaac Smith and freelance filmmaker Steve Matzker spearheaded the project.

After the screening, Parker and Smith fielded questions about their work.

The underlying theme of the questions and comments were about how to move forward — attendants said history was important but they wanted to look ahead.

“I heard a gentleman saying our history is your history but we need our future to be your future,” Steven Tarver, a community leader with Men of Power, Women of Strength from Cairo, said.

People also wanted to know how they could help Cairo — either residents of housing or of the city itself. Cairo community members were able connect with residents of the larger Southern Illinois community.

Marcella Woodson-Ursey, a member of Men of Power, Women of Stength said to the group that people could reach out to them through Facebook. She said they have many community projects in the pipeline, including a community garden as well as a development project for housing in Cairo.

Woodson-Ursey said their group plans to begin meeting regularly in Cairo this November.

Representatives from Vienna’s Family Counseling Inc. were at the event collecting donations for a fund that benefits residents moving out of housing. The funds are specifically to assist residents who need household items for a move to a new home — things like couches, mattresses and other items that some families may not be able to or want to take with them due to the conditions of the housing in Cairo.

Photographs made by The Southern staff on display in the Varsity’s gallery were available as gifts for those who donated to the cause. After an initial tally of donations, Family Counseling said they raised nearly $700 for their Cairo fund.

isaac.smith@thesouthern.com

618-351-5823

On Twitter: @ismithreports

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