Residents Look to the Hills


The residents of the Harold L. Ickes Homes are seeking stability with nowhere to find it. The list of imbalances is lengthening daily. It seems like it would be a simple matter to dry up the ever-present body of water that floats like a moat in front of all the ‘double-T’ buildings and never goes away. At 23rd Street along the fire lane, the moat is deep enough and permanent enough to actually grow a microscopic form of seaweed. Seagulls wake you every morning and wade in search of bugs.

This past July and August, the moat made a great bed for hatching mosquito eggs, perhaps even the dreaded West Nile virus-carrying mosquito. How can we tell? The risk of the children getting hit by the insect is high. But apparently, nobody cares.

On Friday, Sept. 9, 21st Police District Commander Adrienne Stanley and Public Housing Section Commander Ernest Brown, 30 police officers, CHA official Matthew Smith and heads of other city departments converged on Ickes Homes to clean up areas, clear out abandoned and illegally parked cars and to get rid of the ever-present rats.

When I saw the huge yellow city vactor (a water-sucking machine), hope rose quickly to my conscience and I sought out the head of the sewer department, Maria Rios, who was on hand to supervise her personnel. I invited her to come from the city vehicles and mass of workers to see for herself the river of continuous, stagnant water that borders the once-lovely terrace area gracing our front “yards.” I requested that she make sure her crew would “take care” of or remove the dangerous waters that day. She told me she could see the problem and she explained the reason for it and the possible solution.

Did it happen? No! The water was still there, a virtual wetland complete with birds, insects, plant life and more. The water makes the sidewalk impassable to get directly to State Street. If you can leap over it, you do it. If not, you walk a full block only to walk on gravel left by city workers doing underground repairs to ensure that the new schools plumbing system gets the right hookup.

And oh yes, the children use the gravel like sand. They throw it, kick it, roll in it and put it in containers and haul it all over the area to play with. Help.

While everyone “suffers the waters,” individuals wade in perpetual confusion about a common entity known as a mailbox. In spring 2000, this reporter wrote about the unbelievably bad situation with the mailboxes at 2250 S. State St. An inadequately locked panel that should have covered every apartment dweller’s mailbox didn’t. After much wrangling between residents, Ickes’ new management and the US Postal Service, the old panel was replaced with a new one.

However, the repair was incomplete. One resident had no mailbox for her apartment. There is no number 404 in the whole panel. The managers half-did the job when they replaced the left side with a new covering and left the right side with the old, old panel.

This reporter talked to Pauline Gates, who lives in apartment number 404. I asked her what the new management told her about having no mailbox?

    PG: “The first time I went to the office and reported the fact that I had nowhere for my mail to go, they said a man was coming to put one in. When someone comes from the Post Office to open the panel, he would put on a door to a mail box with 404 on it.”
    RJ: “Did they come out to do the job?”
    PG: “No. The second time I went down to the office, it took them so long. The head janitor workman said, ‘Ms. Gates, I’m going to put 404 on 206 so you can get your mail there.’ I told the mail lady what he said. She told me she could not put mail addressed to 404 in 206. It’s against the law. When I first got here, I asked the mail lady could she put my mail into 405. That did work for a while.”
    RJ: “What happened next?”
    PG: “To make sure I get my mail, I purchased a mailbox at the local post office for $22.75 every six months. I asked the people at the management office to change the apartment on my rent statement to the PO mail box so I could get it on time.”
    RJ: “What did management say?”
    PG: “Management told me they couldn’t change the address on my rent statement.”
    RJ: “What do you do now?”
    PG: “What can I do? I have nowhere to turn to get this situation resolved.”

A New Promise
Despite the insecurities of safe and rightful living, another new office has opened in Ickes that promises to support a better way of living. It is The Woodlawn Organization’s Service Connector Program. The elusive announcement flyers describe the function of the program thusly: “Linking Quality Supportive Services in the Areas of Employment – Family Stability and Housing Permanence.”

Like the great poet Maya Angelou’s “Again I Rise,” I arose with the hope that this new office will be a true link between residents and the three most desirable states of existence one could have. The office has two experienced persons, Pam Wright and Gloria Bass.

I visited the new office and inquired of the new program’s credibility.

    RJ: “Just what do you do?”
    PW: “We service the residents by helping them find employment by way of recruitment. We do an individual assessment of persons looking for a job, i.e. qualifications, job history, educational history, etc.”
    RJ: “How many people so far (since Sept. 24) have you serviced?”
    PW: “So far, we’ve serviced 90-100 people.”
    RJ: “What kinds of jobs are being offered?”
    PW: “We don’t know. We are a referral center, referring persons to a job developer.”
    RJ: “Where is the job developer?”
    PW: “At the main TWO headquarters, 1510 E. 63rd St.”
    RJ: “Are the residents appreciative of the new Service Connector program?”
    PW: “Yes. We’ve had a real good turn out. We did some initial outreach by talking to some people. They became excited and formed an informal grapevine and people came out to be ‘connected.'”
    RJ: “What was your busiest day to date?”
    PW: “Oct. 11, 2001. We saw some 80-plus people when we hosted a job fair.”
    RJ: “Have you had any or heard of any good results?”
    PW: “No. Not yet. But we are hopeful.”
    RJ: “What about the other two components of the new office? How closely will you work with the residents to help them attain their goals?”
    GB: “It would be best to talk with my supervisor, Tanya Decker.”

I did make a call to Decker, who graciously answered my inquiries.

    TD: “What the Service Connectors will be doing is making referrals to those outside agencies that provide the necessary services needed to be instrumental in helping the residents reach their desired goals, i.e. GED classes, etc.”
    RJ: “How will this come about?”
    TD: “We (TWO) were contracted by the Chicago Housing Authority and the Department of Human Services to provide the Service Connector Program and therefore, we will be using their guidelines.”

And so dear reader, once again, time will be the teller of just how stabilizing this new service will be for the residents.

Elections The election for the new officers of the Local Advisory Council and its members looms ahead as candidates and potential candidates make their decision to run. Still seeking a stable situation, I called Gloria Williams, our longtime LAC president, to inquire about her intentions for the upcoming elections.

    RJ: “Are you going to run again?”
    GW: “Yes.”
    RJ: “I remember before when you ran successfully, you wanted it to be your last term in office.”
    GW: “Well, you know, I’m caught up in the middle of the transformation and a new person would be left out.”
    RJ: “Just what does that mean?”
    GW: “You know we had to go through training to assist our people through the process and they wouldn’t be privy to that and to promises made and other certain connections.”

Well, with that said and understood by this reporter, some semblance of stability during the transformation, as far as the LAC is concerned, is evident in Williams’ plans not to abandon the residents by not running again.

I’m still holding out hope that promises made for our children to attend the new school are still in place. I asked Williams if the children will still be in the first student body.

    GW: “Yes. I have a letter to that effect.”
    RJ: “Can the letter be made public?”
    GW: “Yes. It can be printed.”
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