Squatters Worry About Homelessness

by  Assistant Editor

Many residents of public housing are asking the public, what would you do if you had no money, no job and no place to call home? How low would you go? Would you become a squatter?

I’m running into many squatters as I continue to do my research with professor Sudhir Venkatesh from Columbia University, author of American Project.

Take, for instance, a young man who’s squatting in one of the vacant units in a Chicago Housing Authority development, a young man known to the other building residents as “Larry.” I asked him how he got to be a squatter?

Larry is a relatively young man that resides in two vacant units with his cat, who he just calls “rat eater.” Larry is known to many of the residents as a classic squatter. Other residents like him because he does odd jobs around the development, fixing things that most of the time the management ignores. He does this type of work just so that he can eat.

He said, “I used to have my own apartment in the Dearborn Homes. I had a lease there. I just gave up and stopped paying rent, so the city evicted me.

“I was sick and tried of the gangs taking over my apartment as if it were theirs. Police used to chase these boys into my house. Plus, nobody ever visited me.

“Otherwise I didn’t feel comfortable living there any more. So I moved closer to my mother in the Robert Taylor Homes. I stayed here with my sister but my mom and my sister recently moved out with a Section 8 voucher, leaving me here to fend for myself in shark-infested waters.

“I used to be a janitor for CHA until former CEO of CHA Phillip Jackson laid us off. That was the beginning of my downfall.”

I ran across another young man who was squatting who goes by the name of Eddie. Eddie is a mature man in his early 50s. He claimed that he has been working all of his life. He fell on hard times, or should I say hard times fell on him, when he was laid off from his job.

I asked Eddie about his situation. He said, “I fell on hard times when my job closed down and my unemployment ran out. I have been looking for a job but I can’t seem to find one quickly. I know I have skills and something will turn up.” I asked him why he stays in a vacant apartment instead of a homeless shelter?

He said, “Shelters are too overcrowded. I can’t hear myself think. Besides, they wake you up very early in the morning and put you out, even if you don’t have anywhere to go.

“Here in this vacant apartment, I get up when I get ready, unless the police put me out. But those are the chances that I’m willing to take to keep my sanity.”

Recently, another young man came to my job to see me. His name is Albert Hughes. He explained that he used to live with his sister in the Robert Taylor Homes building at 4950 S. State St. His sister recently put him out, afraid that she might not receive her Section 8 voucher because he wasn’t on the lease.

Confused and cold, dumbfounded and bewildered, Hughes asked me what I could do to help him. I called 311 and asked them to help find a place where this young man could stay. The operator told me to send the young man to the police station or to the hospital.

When I called the police station, the policeman told me that if I send the young man there, he would be sitting on a bench for half the night. That wasn’t a good option.

I called the services center at 43rd Street and Cottage Grove Avenue. I was told that the day was a holiday, Pulaski Day. The voice on the phone said, “We are closed. Have him get in touch with us the following day.”

Eventually, he went to the Pacific Garden mission, spent two days there, and now is residing on 43rd Street and Wabash Avenue at a community center.

Many CHA residents are panicking, thinking that they will lose their housing if they have tenants who are not on the lease. They are putting their relatives out onto the Windy City’s streets, even though some of these individuals have stayed with these tenants for years.

I remembered that CHA CEO Terry Peterson said he was going to help the squatters. I called CHA spokesperson Derek Hill and asked him what plans CHA has to help the squatters that reside in vacant CHA units.

Hill said, “Terry is such a compassionate man that he plans on turning them over to the Department of Human Services (DHS) so that they can get the necessary help they may need.”

I called DHS spokesperson Tom Green and asked him about the special program that CHA and DHS have put in place to help service the squatters.

Green said, “I’m not familiar with the CHA program that’s supposed to help squatters but I will look farther into that and I will let you know more about it, when I learn more.”

So I re-called CHA spokesperson Hill to get the name of the program. I figured if I knew the name, I could call Green back and get more information.

Hill said, “Terry is helping the squatters out of compassion. That’s because he a very compassionate and caring person. There’s no name (to the program). He is only doing it because he (doesn’t want) to see anyone become homeless. That’s why we are working with our sister organization, the Department of Human Services (DHS).”

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