Looking for work in East Garfield Park | Bleader

Looking for work in East Garfield Park

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A boarded-up home on West Monroe, one of scores in East Garfield Park
  • Mick Dumke
  • A boarded-up home on West Monroe, one of scores in East Garfield Park
Alderman Robert Fioretti was walking through East Garfield Park Saturday morning on one of his regular tours of the Second Ward when a constituent hollered hello from his front porch.

"Good morning, sir!" Fioretti said. "Everything good?"

The man nodded, but before he could say anything, another constituent—a bearded, rickety figure on the other side of South Francisco—yelled out his own answer.

"We need some jobs out here!" he called out to the alderman, and anyone else within earshot.

Fioretti agreed—how could he not? Most of the factories that were once the lifeblood of the west side have been shuttered for years, and the business strips in East Garfield Park have largely been reduced to a few gritty food stores, if anything is open at all. The alderman says that when a Costco opened last month in the medical district, a couple miles away, nearly 30,000 people applied for its 130 jobs.

He told the bearded man to call his office for information about an upcoming job fair.

"Our neighborhoods are experiencing post-traumatic stress syndrome," Fioretti said to me. "The violence and the depression from all the foreclosures are bearing down on people. We can say it's all gangs, but it's more than that."

Still, there were signs of resilience all over the neighborhood. Kids were playing basketball and adults were setting up grills for the St. Joseph Missionary Baptist Church block party on Francisco and Fifth Avenue. "We try to be a refuge," said Pastor Donald McFadden.

On the boarded-up windows of a vacant home on West Monroe—one of several on the block and scores in the immediate neighborhood—someone had affixed a message in carefully cut wooden letters: "Though I walk through the valley I will fear no evil."

Around the corner a retired police officer sat on his porch enjoying the day. And Fioretti himself was armed with a can of black spray paint that he wielded every time he spotted gang graffiti on a street lamppost.

But others who can't find jobs were desperately trying to make their own work.

Fioretti was driving a few minutes later when we came upon a thin woman of about 45 on the corner of Madison and Albany. She was wearing tight pants and a blouse that was barely staying on. It was about 10 AM.

Fioretti rolled down his window. "Good morning."

The woman put on her best smile and hurried over. "Hey, honey!"

"Hey," said Fioretti. "I'm the alderman, and you've got to start walking. Don't make me call."

Her expression turned to dismay. "I'm not a prostitute—"

"I know," he said. "But you've got to start walking."

"OK. But I'm not a prostitute. I just owe somebody 40 dollars, and it's tough out here."

"I know, but you can't be here, OK? I don't want to have to call you in."

"I'll walk that way," she said, pointing east. "I live over there."

"That would be good, then."

"All right, honey," she said. "You have a nice day. I love you guys."

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