Help Us Reclaim Our Community for the People!

An appeal by Shani Smith, Chair of Liberate the South Side

Shani Smith. Source: Chris Walker, The Chicago Tribune

What the banks have done to our communities is a moral outrage! Nationwide, more than a quarter of our homes, including my own, are underwater. Since the banks crashed the economy, I’ve been between unemployment and underemployment. My sister Tene was forced to move back in with my family. But when she moved in, she discovered that we too were struggling. My home, once valued over $250,000, is now worth only half that amount. Through a series of fraudulent practices, the banks have tried to take my home away – and for what? To board it up and let it go to waste? Our community is inundated with vacant and boarded-up homes. They are a blight to the neighborhood and attract crime – and incredibly, there are more vacant homes than there are homeless families! That’s just not right! We need to fight back!

And that’s why we’ve come together as a group of concerned citizens to form Liberate the Southside – in order to reclaim these vacant properties for our neighborhood.

Three weeks ago, we reclaimed our first home: a small single-family unit in the neighborhood I’ve lived most of life, Calumet Heights. After nearly a month of hard work fixing the place up, we were able to move my sister back into a real home for her family.

But the project is not over! We need your help! More repairs are needed for the home, utilities must be paid, and we’ll need more funds to continue our plans to liberate the South Side. Your gift of $25-100 will help us continue housing families and holding the banks accountable by taking back our communities!

Thank you for your support,

Shani Smith
Chair of Liberate the Southside

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Day Three

January 21, 2011. Home Liberation Day 3

This painting by Tene now hangs in her new home!

LSS Anti-Eviction Defense Team jumped into action helping the family to move their personal belongings into the liberated home. Neighbors greeted the family with prayers, hugs, and donated furniture items. The family’s youngest member immediately ran to pick out the biggest room in the house as her own quickly unpacking and aligning her baby dolls in there new digs on her dresser. Mom was later surprised to see both children gathered in the living room around a small table to do their homework, “this is unheard of on a Saturday afternoon…who abducted my children,” she expressed with joy. The son explained there wasn’t heat in their last home forcing them to spend longer hours at school whenever possible or seeking some warmth under the covers. Now they had a warm, well-lit, and clean space to their assignments.

Although mom was tired she found the strength to shop for groceries and cook the family’s first sit down meal together in more than three years.

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Videos From Thursday’s Liberation on the South Side

A Short Video:

A Longer Video:

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The Liberation Continues!

January 20, 2011. Home Liberation Day 2

On day two of the Calumet Heights home liberation community groups held leadership meetings, the Anti-Eviction Defense Team met to discuss how to assist in the family’s transition, and the home liberation family packed for Saturday’s big move with much excitement.

Creating a safe community space and drawing attention to the issues of foreclosure, vacant property, the role of banks in crashing the economy, and the disproportionate impact on communities of color are major goals of the LSS Home Liberation Project. Community groups invited neighbors to join the leadership meetings and contribute to the discussion around the family’s transition. The conversations successfully set a moving strategy, helped compile some additional resources for the family, and propelled the Anti-Eviction team into action.

Tene Prays at the Press Conference

Members of the Anti-Eviction team assisted the family in packing, arranging for a moving truck, and pinpointing any additional needs for their transition into their new home. Liberated home occupant, Tene shared her hopes accessing affordable housing to shelter her family and fears that the banks would continue to terrorize the community with vacant homes and putting yet another working family on the streets. Her youngest daughter expressed her anticipation of moving into the new home by creating new hairstyles and clothes for each of her nine dolls before she packed them away for the move. “I will go to bed tomorrow with a warm roof over my head and wake up to a breakfast table with my family,” says the oldest son. His only regret was he could not share this experience with his two other siblings that are away at schools outside the city.

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Home Liberation a Success!

January 19, 2011. Home Liberation Day 1.

Liberate the South Side’s January 19th home liberation was a success! More than 30 South Side community leaders, neighbors, and a number of clergy met at the corner of 87th on Kenwood during an afternoon snow flurry before liberating a vacant home for a displaced family. Reporters, local news cameras, and photographers gathered around the group to document the rally lead by Pastor Vance of St. Stephen’s Lutheran Church and the new tenants of the liberated home. In the moments leading up to liberating the home there was so much joy and excitement, that participants barely noticed the cold brisk winds stirring.

Pastor Booker Vance Talks to the Media

The home had been vacant for two years and neighbors of the liberated home immediately welcomed the family onto their block. A group of neighbors presented the new tenant, a single mother of four, with housewarming gifts. Humbled, she stated to crowd “My name is Tene Smith. I am a single mother. I work two part-time jobs to support my family. I am an artist and welding student. The banks were bailed out and given a second chance. I believe that working families should be given a second chance as well, to have gainful employment and affordable housing. I want to say thank you to everyone for giving me and my family this chance.”

“Thousands of people are homeless in Chicago, while tens of thousands of properties in our city sit vacant,” says Rev. Thomas Gaulke of Trinity Lutheran Church. “The negligence and fraud of Wall Street should lead to the arrest and prosecution of bankers and the bankruptcy of the banks – not the homelessness for our people and blight in our communities.”

Several religious leaders from across Chicago and Northwest Indiana blessed the house, including Pastor Vance and Rev. Gaulke, before Tene hung a special painting she created for her new home.

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