NATO Summit Tour Continues in Englewood and Brighton Park (Part II)
Charles Brown, a 43-year resident of Englewood, shows journalists the many vacant homes in his neighborhood.
In its continued efforts to show journalists a side of the city that many have not seen, the Grassroots Collaborative took local and national journalists on day two of the “99% Tour.” The tour, which visited Little Village and Back of the Yards on day one, took the small group of journalists to Englewood and Brighton Park in its second day.
Englewood, a neighborhood troubled by high foreclosure rates, has experienced an increase in the amount of vacant homes in the area—a concern to residents like Charles Brown, who said the homes attract violence and drug activity.
“This is what creates the crime, this is what creates the danger in our area. It’s a terrible situation and it has gotten worse,” he said.
Brown, a former Chicago police officer and 43-year resident of Englewood, has worked to bring awareness to the vacant homes in his neighborhood, advocating for legislations such as an amendment to the Vacant Property Ordinance.
Passed last year, the amendment changes the definition of a homeowner to include banks, as the lenders, and makes them responsible for the building’s safety and maintenance while vacant. If they do not comply, they are fined by the city.
“We could start putting this money back into our neighborhoods, then we can cut out crime and increase our ability to educate our children and definitely have it more safer in these neighborhoods,” said Brown.
However, according to him, more money is needed to fund watchmen that would guard vacant homes and prevent violence and drug activity from occurring. That money, he said, could easily come from the city if they spent less money funding events like NATO.
Currently Action Now, an organization that works on foreclosure issues in the city, is working to get the Safe Passage Ordinance approved in City Council. The ordinance would require the implementation of watchmen in unsafe vacant buildings within 1,000 yards of a school. Advocates of the ordinance say this would help keep children who walk home from school safe from criminals.
Keeping children safe is also a concern for residents of Brighton Park. Last month, the neighborhood experienced six shootings and three fatalities due to gang activity.
A group of volunteer mothers is part of a parent patrol at Davis Elementary that helps keep their neighborhood of Brighton Park safe during school hours.
These shootings, according to lead organizer of the Brighton Park Neighborhood Council (BPNC) Mariela Estrada, often occur near local schools, endangering the lives of the students who attend them.
Taking measures to stop the violence, a group of volunteer mothers has formed safety patrols in five elementary schools in the neighborhood.
“Although it’s the city’s job to provide public safety, we had to respond since our children are in danger and continue to face threats of gang violence,” said Nancy Barraza, a Brighton Park leader and Parent Patrol volunteer.
The patrol, according to Barraza, has helped deter gang activity in school zones during school hours, however it has not helped eliminate it completely.
During the Brighton Park tour, as journalists took pictures of gang graffiti along a building façade, a member of the Two-Six gang approached them and urged them to leave his “’hood.”
This type of intimidation, according to members of the parent patrol, is common in the area.
“That’s why it’s so important for us to be here,” said Teresa Padilla, a parent patrol at Davis Elementary. “We need to keep our kids safe from people like that.”
But keeping kids safe requires money that, according to Barraza, the patrol simply does not have.
“We want people to understand that there’s a need for funding for programs such as these,” she said. “If we only receive a portion of what NATO is costing the city in security we would have this program for many years to come.”