At the end of her rope: Cabrini-Green resident faces eviction tomorrow
Last Tuesday was frightening, but it’s this Tuesday that Lenise Forest really fears.
Last Tuesday, she says, the sheriff came to her two-bedroom apartment in Cabrini-Green, knocking on the door briefly before kicking it down. Several men came in, she says, putting guns on her and her brother and serving her with an eviction notice.
Seven days, they said, and they would be back.
So it’s tomorrow that worrying her. The day the sheriff comes back to haul her and all her things out of her apartment and onto the street.
Where will you go? I ask.
I don’t know, she says.
The trouble started two years ago. Lenise had a job working in a nursing home making $9 an hour. It wasn’t enough to make ends meet, but she did what she could to raise two boys, she says. Sometimes, she admits, she fell behind on her rent.
So when she got a new job in mid-2007 making more money, she went to the management office to try to figure out how to pay off her balance and keep paying her rent.
To help her out, she says the manager enrolled her in a program called EID – Earned Income Disallowance – that would hold Lenise’s rent steady for awhile until she was able to get on her feet.
Well, she thought the manager had enrolled her.
That same month, a tragedy happened in Cabrini-Green. A gate fell on a three-year-old boy, killing him, and the management company was fired.
Lenise assumed the EID paperwork had gone through. Until earlier this year, when she received a notice from the new management company that she owed thousands of dollars in rent.
If she didn’t pay, they told her, she was out.
She hired a lawyer, but not a very good one. A guy her neighbor had hired to get him out of a traffic ticket. But Lenise didn’t know where else to turn. He was all she could afford.
Then, she was laid off from her job. Terrible timing. She had worked for the developer of Cabrini – Holsten Realty – helping old Cabrini residents get ready for their new home in the mixed-income community. But Holsten’s funding for the program went dry, she says, and they had to let Lenise go.
She couldn’t pay the lawyer to come to her court date, she says, the date she was asked to sign an order of possession – a court order saying that the Chicago Housing Authority would take back possession of her unit. It had a clause, saying that she could stop her eviction if she paid a $4,000 within 30 days.
She did, but it was 12 days late – the date of her last paycheck from Holsten. She tried to put it all towards her back rent, she says, but they wouldn’t take it.
By all accounts, Lenise has no hope. Everyone has told her that she’s out of luck. Because she signed the order of possession, there’s no reversing it now.
She emailed me last week, desperate for help. I didn’t know what I could do, I told her. She understood.
Sitting at Lenise’s kitchen table, the feeling hopelessness sank in my stomach like a stone. It’s like she knows the grim reaper is coming, but she just has to sit and wait for it to happen, desperately hoping somehow it won’t.
I walked through the winding rowhouse streets, back to my car, and thought about the how hopeless Lenise’s situation seemed. It reminded me of another story of a hopeless young woman – the story of Ruth from the Old Testament.
Ruth, a Moabite, follows her mother-in-law, Naomi back to Israel after her husband, brother-in-law and father-in-law have all died – two single women who had nothing and had no hope of getting anything of their own.
Ruth and Naomi were destitute, and their only hope was for Ruth to marry. But she a foreigner, unclean and unwelcome. And yet Ruth does marry, and she actually ends up becoming the great-grandmother of King David.
Theologian Ray Bakke says the book of Ruth is an urban story. It’s a story that says that history is not just a cycle of hurt and pain. That history is moving forward, and looking forward, there’s hope. That, despite what Naomi and Ruth thought, there is hope for good things to happen even when it seems like nothing good will ever happen again.
And so I told Lenise I would tell her story.
Lenise has been involved in her community for years, as a volunteer and resident advocate. All her neighbors know her, she says.
When I called Alderman Walter Burnett’s office, I spoke to the Alderman’s mother, Dorothy Burnett, who had lived next door to Lenise for years.
“I really hate that this is happening to her because she’s a beautiful person,” Burnett said. “But there’s nothing we can do.
The sheriff will come back tomorrow morning. He will knock or bust the door down and haul Lenise and her things away. She will be homeless. There’s nothing anyone can do.
Or maybe it’s not hopeless. Maybe the heartache is not inevitable. Maybe good things can happen in a time when it seems like nothing good can.
(Note: I called the Chicago Housing Authority to ask about Lenise’s case. They were unable to talk with me about any individual case for privacy reasons.)