No Place Like Home: A South Side Org Fights a Housing Crisis with Support from COVID-19 Response Fund

COMMUNITY AREA #46: South Chicago—Claretian Associates

It all comes down to housing. 

Paying rent is among the chief stresses brought about by the ever-shifting coronavirus crisis, particularly in neighborhoods where small business closures and other layoffs have initiated a financial crisis of no small proportions. And even when people in the community can work, with school closures they have to think about finding child care and keeping the house stocked with food

Alleviating these pressures in South Chicago (Community Area #46)—an ethnically diverse neighborhood on the southeast side of the city with a population of some 28,000 and a median household income of $28,504—has been the task of Claretian Associates since the 1970s. Originally founded by a group of Roman Catholic priests from Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish (the oldest Mexican-American parish in the city), the original goal of the organization was to provide economic relief after the exodus of steel workers in the seventies. Today, the neighborhood serves as one of the city’s primary entry points for new immigrants, with people arriving from Africa, Latin America, and Eastern Europe regularly.   

Now, Claretian Associates runs a range of programs that distribute support to the local community, in the form of physical and affordable housing, violence reduction programs, employment opportunities (through the Safe Passages program), and other means of financial and emotional support. With the onslaught of the coronavirus, their work has become more important than ever. That’s part of the reason they were awarded a modest grant from the Chicago Community COVID-19 Response Fund rapidly set up by The Chicago Community Trust and the United Way of Metro Chicago when the initial impact of Illinois’ shelter-in-place policies were just starting to be felt across the city. 

Wanting to understand more about the work of this vital South Side community organization, how they’re responding to the COVID-19 crisis, and what impact the CCT/United Way grant will have on their work, we (figuratively, of course) sat down with Angela Hurlock, the executive director who has been with the organization for some 16 years, to learn more. 

Chicago Ideas (CI): Housing forms the core of your services and mission. Why is housing such an important part of what you all do?

Angela Hurlock (AH): My perspective is that housing is an essential foundation that everyone needs. Every single person. Everyone has to live somewhere and call somewhere home. What we find a lot of times is that, when someone’s housing is not stable, there are greater challenges. Studies show that when children are exposed to gun violence or have divorce in their family or grow up without a parent or without stable housing, then they’re more likely to experience those things later in life. Housing is such a critical issue. When people don’t have a safe place to call home and lay their heads, it’s hard to build a stable life without that primary foundation. 

CI: As a community organization, what are your primary concerns that the funding from the Chicago Community COVID-19 Response Fund addresses most essentially?

AH: We are very concerned about people and their housing stability. Underemployment is very prevalent in our neighborhoods. Even if people are employed, they might have the jobs that are most susceptible to environmental and economic changes, like those we’re seeing with this crisis going on. So we’re concerned that we’d start to see families in jeopardy of being displaced because they can’t pay their rent or their mortgage. 

Number two, we’re worried that people won’t be able to access food, either because they struggle with having the resources to buy food or—even if they do have the money—because of the degree to which people who have resources are stocking up on things that then aren’t available to people who need them as well.

CI: Why do you think it’s important that people in Chicago support funds like this? Why is that important for people?

AH: This affects us all. If our kids can’t go to school, it’s all of our kids. These are the workers that may not have vacation time and may not have the ability to take leave or work from home. A lot of times we don’t think about it. It’s something we can miss if we are more in the white collar sector of employment. But when you’re in the blue collar sector, you realize that there are people who still have to pick up the garbage and still have to answer phones and cook the food. Those people also have children and those people also work in schools or need those resources, so it really does impact all of us on different levels.

CI: How did this infusion of funding support your capacity to accomplish your mission?

AH: I am so appreciative of the United Way of Metro Chicago and The Chicago Community Trust for feverishly working to figure out how to funnel resources to those that are most likely to need them. They pulled together resources very quickly with a very low bar for accessing them. They trust that we’re connected to the families and able to identify the families that are most in need. That’s an amazing partnership between a funder and a community development partner. Those things need to be applauded. They’ve created a way for anyone to help with this right now. Anyone at any economic level can help with this. We are very grateful to them.

CI:  Why is it important that these resources were distributed so quickly? What is it about that like rapid response that’s crucial to your work?

AH: This crisis is moving rapidly and every day you realize that what life looked like last week is so different than what it looked like the week before that. And a week from now it will look drastically different. So, the importance of this being a very quick moving resource is just that much more important.

CI: How can people continue to support the important work you all do?

AH: People can do lots of things. Connect to our website to explore our programming and see how you can support some kind of need. 

Want to support the work of organizations, like Claretian Associates, that are providing essential services to the most at-risk populations in the city right now? Make a donation to the Chicago Community COVID-19 Response Fund, established by The Chicago Community Trust and the United Way of Metro Chicago to put resources in the hands of the people who need it most at this critical time. 


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