All posts by michaeldeas

Homeless women face heightened threats of violence on streets

The woman’s full name in this story is being withheld to protect her privacy.

By Sally Ehrmann
Medill Reports

Jen struts through the Harold Washington Library Center, stopping only to drop a few fraying books into the return bin. She produces a deep guttural laugh as she steps outside into the brisk November air and lights a cigarette.

She is a mother to an adult son and two cats. She is a sister, a friend and an animal lover. She is working toward her associate degree at Harold Washington College.

The 54-year-old Chicago-area resident faced hardships in her life, molding her into the woman she is today. Recently, she faced a roughly yearlong bout of homelessness.

“I may be down, but I will never be out,” Jen said. “I’m like a cat. I will always bounce back. I didn’t let it break me. It didn’t break my spirit. I had dark days, but I got out of it.”

Jen is not alone in her experience as a woman experiencing homelessness. According to the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, about 39.5% of all homeless individuals in Chicago identified as female in 2018. While women may be the minority, experts agree that women face greater threats of violence, harassment, assault and hygiene problems when living on the streets. Continue reading

Auto-voter registration in Illinois not complying with law, experts say

By Megan Sauer
Medill Reports

Jay Young  celebrated in 2017 when then-Gov. Bruce Rauner signed the automatic voter registration bill into law. Young, among several other nonprofit and voting rights advocates, thought Springfield’s approval signaled the end of a long, painstaking process that had required months of political appeasing and redrafting legislation.

“It felt like a big event and everyone in both houses seemed to get behind something this vital,” said Young, 47, the executive director of Common Cause Illinois, a pro-demoracy organization in Chicago. “The process, from that really high point to where we are today, has been really frustrating.”

Although lawmakers purposely built extensions into the bill to allow government agencies time to implement AVR by July 2018, over a year has passed since its initial deadline. As far as Young and other members of the Just Democracy coalition are concerned, the inclusive “spirit” of the AVR bill has not been implemented “anywhere in the state” of Illinois. Continue reading

CPS teachers take on second jobs to keep their ‘heads afloat’

By Zoe Collins Rath
Medill Reports

Tara Stamps is hunting for another job in either a hotel or an airport. The STEM teacher at Laura S. Ward Elementary School said she loves teaching but she needs another source of income because she will have to stretch $119 for another week.

“Cost of living in the city forces you to do creative budgeting or get a second job,” she said.

Stamps represents 1 in 6 teachers who work a second job, according to the Pew Research Center. The study found 18% of teachers had a second job during the 2015-16 school year and the second income during the school year made up an average 9% of their income.

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Single parents spend 90% of their incomes to pay for child care

By Esther Bower
Medill Reports

Valisha White knows there is no sacrifice too great for her two children, Harmony, 9, and Alandis, 5. White, a single parent in Uptown, said she strives to provide the most for her kids amid strapped finances and high child care prices.

“I just had to go get the kids new coats; after that, I had 74 cents in my account, but I’m glad I did it because my kids were warm,” White said.

White works a full-time job and uses state resources to help make ends meet. She always wanted her kids in early developmental programs, but that desire comes at a steep price.

White, 29, represents 33.5% of single-mother households in Chicago. According to research from Child Care Aware of America, single parents like White would pay 90.4% of their incomes to afford Illinois child care for two children.

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MLK protector paves road for others to ‘accomplish more’

By Dwight A. Weingarten
Medill Reports

No one knew the building of Warren Avenue Congregational Church better than Rozell “Prexy” Nesbitt, whose first encounter with the church came as a 4-year-old in 1948 after his parents rolled him into the Sunday  school with a broken leg.

“In fact, the truth be told, I was the first black person in the building,” said Nesbitt, now 74, whose parents would join the church soon after Nesbitt’s inauspicious first visit.

Nearly two decades later,  the same church welcomed the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in 1966 as the organization made the church its headquarters in their campaign to end slum housing. Continue reading

Religious activists’ work in troubled communities escapes media coverage

By Claire Fahey


imberly Lymore, associate minister at St. Sabina, said her place of worship on Chicago’s South Side is “ is not like any other Catholic Church in the archdiocese.”

“A lot of the times, we think about the community as a congregation now and we try to meet their needs in whatever way … because Auburn Gresham and Englewood has the highest unemployment rate in the area,” Lymore said, adding that some of the services include finding jobs and providing food and clothing.

At St. Clement Catholic Church in Lincoln Park, Maggie Hanley, the director of community outreach, said that “there is more work to be done” in communities on the South Side.

Religious institutions, like  Lymore’s and Hanley’s,  are working  to counter systemic issues of crime through a variety of services rarely noticed by mainstream media that frequently target the city for its perpetually high murder rate.
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Chicago cops find solace in God ‘in times of stress,’ growing public distrust

By Allison Ledwon

In the following story, details such as the names and ages of the police officers have been withheld to protect their privacy and personal safety.

A  South Side police officer, like most young adults graduating from college, was looking for a stable but fulfilling career.  He thought he would find it in the role of a Chicago police officer.

“My initial thought was that it would be a rewarding career of helping people,” the officer said.  But after bearing his badge for some time, he made the discovery that the job is not what he thought it would be.

“You thought that you were going to help people and you find out when you get there, not many people tell you thank you” he said. “It’s still rewarding because you know secretly that people needed you and wanted you there, even if they didn’t tell you thank you. However, we’ve come across one of the weirdest times in the United States’ history that we’ve reached the spot where the police are actually the bad guy now.”

According to Pew researchers, 51 percent of police officers nationwide, like the South Side officer, are frustrated by their jobs, while 81 percent say they believe that the public does not understand their occupation. This, according to the study, is likely tied to the recent high-profile fatal encounters between black civilians and police officers both nationwide and in Chicago.
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Chicago experts weigh in on pope’s call to dispose of nuclear weapons


By Katie Karalis

In light of the “mother of all bombs” dropped on an ISIS target in Afghanistan last Thursday, academics and nonviolence strategists alike are in agreement with Pope Francis’ call to the international community to adopt forward-looking strategies to promote the goal of peace and stability, questioning not only the existence of nuclear weapons but also the doctrine of deterrence.

“What Francis is doing is continuing a drift in recent Catholic moral thinking toward peace, which started with John XXIII, said Father John T. Pawlikowski, professor of social ethics and director of the Catholic-Jewish studies program at Catholic Theological Union. “I wouldn’t say that it’s an advocacy of total passivism, but it’s certainly moving away from not only nuclear weapons but just war as an instrument of security and survival.”

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Muslims see mug shot of woman forced to remove hijab as ongoing issue

By Ben Trachtenberg

In the wake of DuPage police releasing a mug shot of a Rafath Waheed without her head scarf, many in the Muslim community said they felt insulted by the lack of sensitivity to their religious customs and say this is just one example of an ongoing problem.

“I think that’s a huge violation of her independence,” said Shapla Shaheen, 21, of Naperville. If you’re obviously wearing something that’s covering yourself and you’re doing that purposefully, and somebody forces you to take it off, it’s taking away your choice. I think that’s disrespectful.”

Shaheen, a Muslim who has worn hijab since high school, said wearing the garment gives her a personal connection to God that is very important to her.

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Homeless youth activists rally against budget impasse

By Kayla Daugherty
Video by Ryan Connelly Holmes

James Ivory describes himself as many things: a college student, a musician, an activist and a father. But because of the social services he received through a homeless shelter, he no longer needs to include “homeless” in that list.

Ivory is one of the thousands of Illinois youth who have found themselves on the street, without a place to eat, sleep or work. The Chicago Coalition for the Homeless reports that an estimated 20,205 Chicago Public Schools students were homeless during the 2014-2015 school year. They were among the 125,848 Chicagoans who were homeless during that period.

Though Ivory is no longer homeless, the 25-year-old came to a recent rally at the Thompson Center in support of social services funding for homeless youth. The rally, sponsored by the Coalition, drew more than 100 individuals hoping to prove to Gov. Bruce Rauner that homelessness is a huge issue in Chicago and that his proposed social service budget cuts will harm people in dire need of help.

Ivory, along with others who are still homeless, talked about their experiences on the streets.

“I think that the normal person doesn’t understand what it’s like to be really hungry,” Ivory said. “Hunger, loneliness—those things are very depressing.”

The young people who spoke showed that there is no one reason for homelessness. Some young men were kicked out of their homes after coming out as gay, bisexual or transgender. Some with criminal records said they had difficulty obtaining and keeping a steady job. Others just fell on hard times—losing a job or being in a serious accident—and were sent into a devastating downward spiral.

Upcoming vote to restore money

Illinois has gone four months without a state budget, and a vote is scheduled in the House on Senate Bill 2046, which would restore social service funding cut in Rauner’s budget.

(Ryan Connelly Holmes/Medill)

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