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New Report: Homeless Being Criminalized

by Mary C. Piemonte 

Officals at Chicago Defender Charities feed the homeless in 2010. Photo by Mary C. Piemonte.

Across the country, homeless people are finding that their activities are being considered criminal acts, according to a new report from a Washington D.C.-based advocacy organization.

The National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty discovered a “startling trend toward criminalizing basic acts necessary for homeless persons’ survival, including eating and sleeping in public.” An analysis in their report, “Criminalizing Crisis: The Criminalization of Homelessness in America,” shows that poverty is at “record levels,” with as many as 3.5 million people experiencing homelessness annually.

“Cities are continuing to penalize people forced to live on our streets and in public spaces,” the report’s authors concluded. The group surveyed local policies in 234 cities, and learned that 40 percent prohibit sleeping in public places; 33 percent prohibit sitting or lying in public places; 56 percent prohibit loitering in public places; and 53 percent prohibit begging in public places. In 188 cities surveyed for both this report and the Law Center’s 2009 report, there were major increases on prohibitions on homeless people begging or panhandling, sleeping and loitering.

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Local Pastor Camps out on Motel Roof to Highlight Area Violence

by Mary C. Piemonte 

Pastor Corey Brooks, of New Beginnings Church, camping out on the rooftop of the vacant Super Motel, as a statment to crime in the area, on November 22, 2011. Photo by Mary C. Piemonte


In an effort to bring attention to violence in Chicago’s Woodlawn and Englewood communities, a local pastor has decided to camp out on the roof of an abandoned motel for 21 days, or until enough funds are raised to buy the motel and transform it into a community and economic development center.

“We’re trying to raise the funds, $450,000 so that we can purchase this motel, tear it down and do something economically that will be a blessing to the community,” said Corey Brooks, pastor of New Beginnings Church, 6620 S. King Drive, during a Nov. 22 interview on top of the former Super Motel, located across the street from the church. During the rooftop interview, members of Brooks’ church – which has over 3,000 members – were using a lift to haul electric heaters and other items onto the roof to help the pastor while he lives in a tent they had set up on top of the motel.
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Cabrini Row House Tenants Prepare to Fight CHA

by Mary C. Piemonte 

Residents and their supporters protest in the Cabrini-Green Row Houses in June 2010. Photo by Mary C. Piemonte.

Tenants of the Cabrini Green Row-Houses are preparing to battle the Chicago Housing Authority for “reneging” on their promise to rehab all remaining units at the North Side public housing complex.

The final high-rise in Cabrini-Green was demolished this past spring, but 534 low-rise units remain in the complex. In 2008, CHA received approval from the federal government to rehab the row houses. However, only 146 units were rehabbed in 2009, leaving 438 units in disrepair, with a great majority left vacant. Only 33 of those are currently occupied, “creating a 92% vacancy rate,” according to the CHA, which announced late last week that it will not continue rehabilitation and will instead boot out the remaining public housing tenants in the non-rehabbed section of the row houses. CHA claimed that “persistent criminal activity” in the area “forces” them to make the tenants relocate elsewhere.

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Mayor Emanuel Booed at Budget Town Hall

by Mary C. Piemonte 

Mayor Rahm Emanuel tries to calm audience members who booed him at a town hall meeting on the City's budget at Kennedy King College on August 30, 2011. Photo by Mary C. Piemonte

Mayor Rahm Emanuel was jeered and booed by many of the people who arrived early at Kennedy King College on August 30, 2011, in hopes of getting their concerns heard and addressed at the first of two public town hall meeting on the city’s budget.

Upon arrival, people learned that they had to fill out questionnaire cards rather than speak directly to the mayor. In a display of sheer disappointment, several people in the crowded main auditorium began loudly complaining about how they were denied the opportunity to speak, while the mayor attempted to answer some of the handwritten questions, which were read to him by Cheryl Hyman, the chancellor of the City Colleges, instead of the people who actually wrote the questions on the cards. Read more »

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CHA Launches Initiative to House Women Ex-Offenders

by Mary C. Piemonte 

Ex-offenders rights advocate Willie J.R. Fleming commends CHA Board members during a recent meeting to discuss creating housijg for women ex-offenders. Photo by Mary C. Piemonte.

Women ex-offenders who formally lived in Chicago public housing will get a second chance to get supportive housing under a plan announced this week by the Chicago Housing Authority Board of Commissioners.

At their Aug. 16 public meeting at the Savoy Square Community Center, 4448 S. State St., the CHA Board authorized interim Chief Executive Officer Carlos Ponce to contract with the Viceroy Apartments on the Near West Side to set aside 17 units of subsidized housing for formerly incarcerated women who once lived in public housing.

The Viceroy Apartments is a six-story brick hotel that was constructed in the 1920s and is located at 1519 W. Warren Blvd. Heartland Housing is redeveloping the structure to include historic preservation of the façade and a total rehab of the interior and its 89 studio apartments, according to an Aug. 10 letter from CHA staff to the board that was e-mailed to Residents’ Journal. The letter indicates that 72 units in the building will for homeless women or those at risk of being homeless. The CHA waiting list will be the primary source of referrals for these 72 units. The remaining 17 units will be master-leased to St. Leonard’s Ministries to provide permanent supportive housing to women ex-offenders. The City of Chicago is donating the property, while Low Income Housing Tax Credits, Tax Incremental Financing (TIF) funds and other sources will be used to complete the rehab. Rent will be set at approximately $685 per month.

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Youth Activists: Juvenile Inmates “Treated Like Animals.”

by Tyreshia Black 

Editor’s Note: The following story was written by a student in the Urban Youth International Journalism Program in partnership with Imagine Englewood If, a youth services organization based in that South Side neighborhood:

Going without clean clothes for weeks. Eating bad food. Suffering violence. These are realities of the juvenile justice system in Cook County, according to youth organizations and experts who spoke at Roosevelt University March 10 in an event organized by the group Fearless Leading by Youth (FLY) and the Southwest Youth Collaborative to expose how teens are treated in detention facilities.

It was a shame to hear how the youth inmates are being treated at the Audy Home detention facility on the Southwest side. At the event, youth leaders said the detained youth have to wear the same jumpsuits and underwear for up to two weeks before getting clean ones. And they said the food being served was weeks past its expiration date, causing many of the young inmates to become ill.

Hearing their descriptions made me cringe inside and wonder how I could help. The food and lack of clothing changes weren’t the only things of concern. Violence was an even bigger topic. The speakers said that in 2007, a “riot” broke out at the Audy Home and chairs, computer monitors and keyboards were thrown. Security guards and employees were hurt, according to media reports. But speakers at Roosevelt said the juvenile detainees were also hurt, and it took weeks or even months for their cuts and bruises to fully heal.

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Residents’ Journal Editor-in-chief talking about Summer Youth Employment

by Mary C. Piemonte 


Click on the image to view the second episode of this season’s “RJ TV,” on July 18, 2011.

Watch Residents’ Journal‘s Editor-in-chief Mary C. Piemonte, talking to Jitsu Brown, the education organizer from the Kenwood/Oakland Community Organization, about his group’s efforts to get Illinois Governor Pat Quinn to fund an Community Youth Investment Act, he signed into law last year, to employ youth throughout the City of Chicago this year.

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RJ Publisher on “Chicago Newsroom”

by Ethan Michaeli, Publisher 

This week, I was honored to appear on “Chicago Newsroom,” hosted by veteran broadcaster Ken Davis, along with fellow guests Art Golab, Database Editor with the Chicago Sun-Times, and Charlie Meyerson, a regular voice on Chicago radio. We discussed the progress of new Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the ouster of Chicago Housing Authority CEO Lewis Jordan, the future of the Taste of Chicago and other issues.

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Where are CHA’s Residents?

by Mary C. Piemonte 

On April 14, Chicago Housing Authority CEO Lewis Jordan announced the results of an “exhaustive tracking process and data analysis” that looked at where its former residents are and how they are doing.

In releasing the information, Jordan said he was aiming to correct misimpressions of agency’s progress on its 12-year-old Plan for Transformation.

Chicago Housing Authority CEO Lewis Jordan talking to reporters about his knowledge of where relocated tenants are, during his press conference resident relocations under the Plan for Transformation, at CHA downtown headquarters on April 14, 2011. Photo by Mary C. Johns

“There’s a myth out there that we don’t know where our families are,” Jordan said. “We do know where these families are.”

When the CHA’s Plan for Transformation was launched in 1999, the agency pledged to demolish its high-rises, re-build mixed-income communities where the developments once stood, and allow former residents to move back. To ensure former tenants could return, CHA also pledged to keep track of them. There were approximately 25,000 residents in the family developments, scattered site housing, and senior buildings when the Plan for Transformation began, according to the CHA.

But if Jordan’s press conference was intended to dispel the notion that CHA doesn’t know where its former families are, his own numbers didn’t quite back him up. On page 3 of CHA’ report, it states that “(2,202) have not responded to CHA outreach and thus their location is unknown.”

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On the Campaign Trail with Che “Rhymefest” Smith

by Cornelius Jordan 

Editor’s Note: The following story was written by a student in the Urban Youth International Journalism Program in partnership with Imagine Englewood If, a youth services organization based in that South Side neighborhood:

Driving around Englewood, pointing out empty lots on Feb. 18, Che “Rhymefest” Smith talked about how these used to be houses. He said he wants to transform the neighborhood and make it a clean and safe environment for kids to play in. He said the neighborhood has no love and care in it, but he wants to change that.

Che 'Rhymefest' Smith on the campaign trail. Photo courtesy of Smith's campaign web site.

Smith is running for alderman of the 20th ward in the April 5 run-off election, after he got 20 percent of the vote in the primary election in February. His opponent is incumbent Willie Cochran. Smith is a Grammy-award-winning rapper, who has met

famous people including Ciara, Bow Wow and Rick Ross. But now, he says he wants to focus his attention on serving his community.

As he went door to door campaigning, some of the gates were locked. He and his assistant put campaign fliers on the locked gates and his assistant rang every doorbell where the gates were unlocked, until she got an answer. For ones with no answer, they would come back the next day. Smith was determined to reach every voter. In his office, he had maps with circles around the homes he’d already been to. After covering an entire block, Smith and his supporters got back into the white van decorated with his name and drove to the next block. Read more »

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