PILSEN — As a Vietnam veteran faces eviction in Pilsen, neighbors are rallying to raise money to help him — and his eight cats — find a new home.
For more than 25 years, Tom Zummo has sat on the steps of his home near the corner of Wood and Cullerton streets chatting up neighbors while drinking coffee and enjoying a cigarette. But those days of sitting on the steps with his pet cats while the Pink Line train rumbles are coming to an end.
Last month, the 70-year-old was served an eviction notice after his home was foreclosed on, saying that he must leave the property by April 1. As difficult as it is to part with his belongings and the physical space he has called home, Zummo said his biggest concern is finding a place that will welcome him and his eight cats.
“They are my world,” he said. “They my absolute concern.”
Earlier this week, a neighbor stepped up to help after finding out that Zummo was days away from being forced out of his home. The resident created the GoFundMe campaign aimed at helping Zummo, a father figure in the neighborhood, find a permanent home. The campaign has raised $2,655 as of Friday morning, more than its $2,000 initial goal.
The helpful neighbor, who asked not to be named, got to know Zummo when she moved next door more than a year ago. They bonded over their shared love for animals, and Zummo even intervened when a neighbor’s dog attacked her dog.
He’s known for helping feed and take care of the feral cats in Pilsen, too.
“It breaks my heart,” she said. “Usually, people expect that when you’re in your 70s, you aren’t worrying where they’re going to be living and whether they are going to be safe.”
Decades earlier, Zummo rented out the Pilsen house’s garden apartment and later took out a mortgage to purchase the home after the previous owner died. A few years ago, Zummo, then a cab driver, said he landed in financial trouble when his taxi medallion was impounded because of an outstanding bill. As a result, he was unable to make his mortgage payments.
His house was foreclosed on in 2017, and auctioned off in 2018. The eviction notice was issued in February.
Quad2 Properties, the firm that now owns the home, did not immediately return a request for comment.
On Thursday, Zummo said he was thankful for the help tof his neighbors who have raised money for him and offered to help store his belongings. But Zummo said he is holding out hope that a last-minute deal with the property owner will allow him to stay in home.
If he isn’t able to negotiate, he said the GoFundMe money will help him move and provide a down payment on a new apartment — one he hopes will also accommodate his beloved cats.
He hopes he doesn’t have to leave Pilsen, either.
The near South Side neighborhood reminds him of the Cabrini Green area where he grew up, “where grandmas would sit in their front stairs,” Zummo said. “People talk and get to know each other here.”
“It reminds me of my youth, when I was a kid,” he said.
While Zummo tries to sort out his living situation, he knows he’s not alone.
“This is happening all over Pilsen,” he said.
He’s seen a surge of developers scoop up homes, and construct new luxury buildings that drive up rents and home purchase prices.
“I’m not the only one who is facing this hardship. I’m not the one that’s a victim,” Zummo said. “It’s the same thing people all over Pilsen are going through.”
Donate to the GoFundMe page here.
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