passing of Sharon Belleville

Discussion list for COMM-ORG colist at
Sat Nov 10 11:37:32 CST 2007

[ed:  from time to time on COMM-ORG we have the opportunity to recognize 
the passing of those who make the work of community organizing something 
we can all be proud of.  This is one of those times.]

From: LrBrrtt at

Dear Friends -

I am so sad to tell you that Sharon Belleville, an organizer and later 
president of Housing Comes First (1995-2000), has died.  She was 62.  As 
most of you know, she was one of the most outstanding grassroots leaders 
and organizers of her generation.

Sharon led the fight to save her project-based Section 8 building, 
Council Towers when a powerful university wanted to take it over and 
turn it into student dorm. (Just a couple of weeks into that campaign, 
Sharon was fired as tenant manager by the building's owner.) Sharon then 
went on to work with tenants at many other low income buildings 
(Murphy-Blair, Darst-Webbe, and Vaughn Towers, among others).  She also 
served as a staff member and leader of the St. Louis housing trust fund 
campaign that won $5 million/year, the largest per capita housing trust 
fund in the US.

Her last tenant organizing campaign was the Boulevard, a 100% disabled 
building. Sharon was able to get Senator Bond to put $1 million dollars 
in the HUD budget to replace the building.  The new building is within 
blocks of the old one and is absolutely beautiful.  Several of the 
tenants from the Boulevard also joined Sharon at Council Towers, where 
she lived until the end. She was active with a new tenants association 
at Council Towers and became involved in local politics when a new, 
promising African-American alderman sought her out in the last few years.

Sharon was a hell-raiser on many fronts. Long ago, she became one of the 
first female coal miners in Southern Illinois, enduring (and ultimately 
prevailing over) many of the kinds of all-too-typical sexual harrasment 
and intimidation tactics used by management and even some of her 
co-workers. She lost her hand in a mining accident and won a settlement 
as a result.

She had a hard time with her health this year, went on oxygen, broke 
some ribs, had shoulder surgery and then last week she had a heart 
attack.  When my sons and I saw Sharon Thursday at the hospital, she was 
in tremendous spirits, but said she did not want to go through this 
again.  One of her dear friends, another Housing Comes First leader, Bob 
Burrows, was with her in the emergency room when she passed.

Sharon told me "I don't know why people want to get old.  It's a bitch."

She will be missed.

Laura Barrett

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