CHATHAM — With summer looming on the horizon, several local social service agencies and the Gresham (6th) District police are joining forces to stop violence while offering Chatham neighbors some much-needed assistance.
The Neighborhood Services of Chicago (NHS), Strong Futures, Oak Street Health, New Life Covenant Church, St. Bernard Hospital, My Block My Hood My City, and the Safer Foundation took over the intersection of 79th Street and Cottage Grove Avenue Tuesday afternoon to help residents experiencing difficulties with employment, housing, and healthcare.
It’s the first collaboration of its kind, as the agencies typically work independently but are now pooling their knowledge and resources in one of the South Side’s biggest hotspots. Last fall, loitering and robberies had become such a problem that Ald. Michelle Smith (8th) had the bus shelter bench temporarily removed.
Activity at the intersection was markedly different Tuesday afternoon, the usual throng of young men hanging outside of the nearby currency exchange reduced to a handful as people made their way to A.R. Leak’s banquet hall, curious to see what the organizations had to offer.
One man had been looking for housing for months and left the hall feeling as though he finally had a lead.
Which, said Shemari Brown, senior director of outreach and community development New Life Covenant Southeast, is the point. Providing hope and opportunities to those that have been largely denied.
“It’s always defined as an ‘issue.’ That’s the language that is used. ‘There’s an issue on 79th and Cottage, there’s an issue on the South Side.’ While there are some issues present, I don’t think that’s the main problem. It’s need,” Brown said..
“The median income in this area is $38,000 and 79 percent of households are led by single mothers, that’s a lot on the mother. And with widespread opioid addiction, it’s really a need we need to address instead of pushing police there.”
The idea of a multi-agency collaboration came last November, at a Grand Crossing Neighborhood Network meeting, Brown told Block Club. The group brainstormed ways to deal with community hotspots. Realizing that penalizing loiterers would do more harm than good, they decided that making resources more accessible would be a better longterm solution.
Soon, people signed on. A.R. Leak, eager to help, offered space. The Safer Foundation, an organization that helps formerly incarcerated men reenter the workforce, didn’t hesitate to bring their van from the West Side to Cottage Grove. Ave, setting up shop right in front of the banquet hall.
That collaborative spirit that has helped the neighborhoods in the 6th district a great deal, said Gresham Police Cmdr. Rahman Muhammed.
“We have a lot of communities, a lot of residents who want to be involved. They see where there’s a decline, and they want to step up. I love it,” Muhammed said. “Whatever partnership I can forge, I’m all in.”
“I couldn’t arrest my way out of this situation. We have a lot of people on these four corners who aren’t doing anything illegal or wrong, they just don’t have anything to do,” added Muhammed.
“So I wanted to bring resources that addressed things like homelessness, mental health, job opportunities, outreach programs. If we centralize these efforts, it can help mitigate some of the problems that 79th and Cottage Grove has, especially before the summer.”
Muhammed added that the agencies will be teaming up again in three weeks to take over 79th and Halsted Street, another hotspot. The idea is to hit all the hotspots on a rolling basis.
For longtime resident and CAPS volunteer Linda Blair, lending her time to Tuesday’s community intervention not only helps those in need, but her, too.
“There are people here with all kinds of gifts. They know how to work on cars, they know how to fix up buildings, build a house even, but they’ve fallen into a trap, whether it be homelessness, or drugs, or gangs, said Blair, who has lived in nearby Park Manor for over 20 years. “
We’re here to let them know that we’ve got them, and it’s ok to come back.”
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