I lived in Altgeld Gardens housing projects until 1975. Altgeld Gardens was a very tough place to live as a child. The people were nice but it was an impoverished, high crime area. Most of its residents were single moms with children on some form of public assistance. In 1976 my family moved out of the housing project to a neighborhood called Roseland, which is now referred to as “The wild wild Hundreds” in Chicago just a few miles north of the Altgeld Gardens housing projects. At that time, it felt like we had moved into a nicer area.
By 1979, gangs had begun to take over Chicago, so no place was really safe anymore. We were poor and my mom did her very best to make sure we had a hot meal on the table each night. The free lunch program for low-income families with children helped a lot. I remember finding it hard to concentrate on school work when I was hungry. I also remember my mother doing all she could to make sure we had a decent place to live, but housing instability was always there lurking. My mother deserved an award for all she did to ensure my brothers and sisters and I had the basics.
As a child I remember feeling a sense of dread and shame when I thought we could be tossed out on to the street. It never happened, but I do recall seeing it happen to other families in our neighborhood. My family had no “plan-B” or financial safety net when it came to securing stable housing. I never forgot that insecure, gut wrenching feeling when I became an adult. I was determined to ensure that my children never had to face such obstacles.
I’m sure my childhood directly influenced my views on homelessness, and I have an undying feeling of empathy for those experiencing it. They are people who matter. Their stories need to be heard. As an adult I resolved to make myself vulnerable enough to stop, listen and help those in need. When I began my journey of helping the homeless at The Franciscan House of Mary and Joseph on Chicago’s west side. I wasn’t sure what to expect because the area was drug infested and had high crime. Definitely not a fun place to visit. I’d been dealing with this type of setting all my life, so I wasn’t personally apprehensive. I felt driven to do something to help. Food , shelter and clean drinking water are basic human rights. I think these truths sometimes get lost because most people are made uncomfortable by the truth of poverty.
The homeless man on the street shaking the cup toward me could have been me. I’d like to think that I have resources available to me that would make that circumstance impossible, but one never knows. It could’ve been me.
That’s why I started United Grinds – an effort we can all get behind together. A portion of proceeds for each bag of United Grinds coffee sold supports those experiencing homelessness in the Chicago area.
Owner & Founder of United Grinds