Photo Essay: A night with Englewood’s Chicagoland Anti-Eviction

What hits you first is the look in people’s eyes. It is a war-weary exhaustion, and an element of desperation. These are honest, hardworking people fighting for their homes against daunting odds. A few made mistakes, some fell on desperate times, a shocking number are the victims of demonstrable fraud and abuse so imbued in the legal and banking system in this country that every home owner has to wonder when that vulture will swoop down upon them and their family. Bottom line, a body needs a safe place to sleep.

The second thing is that all of them walk round with their evidence, the systemic and purposeful effort to deprive them of that cornerstone of the American dream: A home. They clutch packets, envelopes and files as if they were a part of the body, or as critical to their existence as a pacemaker or life-sustaining medicine. In many ways, it is.

Michael Henderson has been fighting eviction for 10 years. He sights a packet full of hard evidence that he was defrauded by an unscrupulous lender. The stress cost him a severe heartattack that left him unable to work.

Michael Henderson has been fighting eviction for 10 years. He sights a packet full of hard evidence that he was defrauded by an unscrupulous lender. The stress cost him a severe heartattack that left him unable to work.

The meeting of Chicagoland Anti-eviction was held in a small storefront in Chicago’s troubled Englewood neighborhood. Here, block after block is blighted by boarded and abandoned buildings. Among them, empty debris-strewn lots appear like a prize fighter’s missing teeth, part of the city’s ill-conceived plan to eliminate havens for crime. It also eliminates opportunities for shelter for Englewood’s epidemic of homelessness.

Across the street at a little hotdog stand at the corner of Dochester and 75th, a group of young men stood anxious, scowling an sneering at the few passing vehicles. Plainclothes police in unmarked cars slow as they pass.

Block after block on Chicago's south and west sides are blighted by abandoned and shuttered houses, and burdened with thousands of homeless

Block after block on Chicago’s south and west sides are blighted by abandoned and shuttered houses, and burdened with thousands of homeless

A tall thin middle aged man steps from behind a support. He and his wife entered quietly and sat apart from the others, as if unsure or ashamed at first. He removes a cap and clutches it nervously in both hands. He introduces he and his wife as Alvin and Jacqueline. “I’m tired of fighting these people and getting nowhere. They just wore me down, wore me down.”

Inside the meeting it is chilly enough to see one’s breath. The air is scented by a tin-foil platter of fried chicken wings and cold fries on the plain plywood bar at the back of the room. The group is represented this night by Toussaint Losier and Shirley Hernandez. Toussaint, a Ph. D. Candidate at the University of Chicago, sporting dreds, is tall, soft-spoken and focused. Shirley moves among the attendees like triage nurse; soothing, assisting, prioritizing. Toussaint meets at a side table with a homeowner named Aaron who waits on each word like a worried parent in a hospital, straining to be clear of each syllable.IMG_0661

Both Shirley and Toussaint are intensely passionate about this work. Both could go off and find work and a life beyond these broken and neglected neighborhoods. They take a sword and shield approach to helping folks. The shield is the effort to stop or slow the process of foreclosure. The community, neighbors and activists are the sword.

Thomas Turner comes in and interrupts the meeting, encapsulating Toussaint and Shirley’s spirit as he addresses the room. There is a history of the hard streets of this city in Thomas’ tone. Tall and full of fight, he’s been shot, stabbed, and until a year ago, homeless. Now he runs HelpHouseChicagoHomelessPeople, and contributes to Chicagoland Anti-Eviction.

Tom Turner of HHCHP, found direction from the Occupy movement, and has helped dozens of homeless people and families in Englewood

Tom Turner of HHCHP, found direction from the Occupy movement, and has helped dozens of homeless people and families in Englewood

“I’m here to fight with you,” he says, “but you really need to fight for yourself.”

It seems to rally the blood and fire of each of these beleaguered souls just enough. But this is a long hard fight in a system fully aligned with banks and financial institutions, and which openly sides with them, in the face of undeniably damning evidence, and with unrepenting bias against the 4 million Americans currently in foreclosure.

Listen to 900poundgorilla every Sunday morning 8-9am on WCPT, Chicago’s Progressive Talk on Our Town with Mike Sanders, and get involved in building a better community.
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About 900poundgorilla

W.C. Turck is a Chicago playwright and the author of four widely acclaimed books.His latest is "The Last Man," a prophetic novel of a world ruled by a single corporation. His first novel, "Broken: One Soldier's Unexpected Journey Home," was reccommended by the National Association of Mental Health Institutes. His 2009 Memoir, "Everything for Love" chronicled the genocide in Bosnia and the siege of Sarajevo. His third book "Burn Down the Sky" is published exclusively on Amazon Kindle. It was in Sarajevo at the height of the siege where he met and married his wife, writer and Artist Ana Turck. FOX NEWS, ABC, CBS News, the Chicago Tribune and The Joliet Herald covered their reunion after the war. He helped organized relief into Rwanda during the 1994 genocide. Turck has been a guest on WMAQ-TV, WLS in Chicago, WCPT, WBBM radio, National Public Radio, Best Of the Left and the Thom Hartmann show. He has spoken frequently on Human Rights, Genocide and Nationalism. In 2011, his play in support of the Occupy Movement, "Occupy My Heart-a revolutionary Christmas Carol" recieved national media attention and filled theaters to capacity across Chicago. He remains an activist to the cause of human rights and international peace. View all posts by 900poundgorilla

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