This editorial was written by the Chicago Tribune Editorial Board in response to this story about Chicago Beyond and IMAN’s safe house concept. It appeared online on August 9, 2019.
On the Southwest Side, refuge comes in the form of a simple red-brick bungalow, with leather couches, a flat-screen television and an Xbox in the basement. The men who live there escaped neighborhoods in which a moment on a porch or a sidewalk could be a last moment lived. In those neighborhoods — Englewood, Roseland, Little Village, and others — they’re enmeshed in a world in which on any given day they can find themselves on either side of a gun.
The Tribune’s Madeline Buckley wrote about the sanctuary that the bungalow, jointly run by a nonprofit called Chicago Beyond and the Inner-City Muslim Action Network, provides to individuals entangled in South and West side street violence, with no way out. Some men, such as Talib Garner, 25, have witnessed violence from the time they were small boys.
Garner was 4 when he watched two people get gunned down. Two years later, he could load a gun. By 14, he had joined the Latin Kings street gang.
“If I stay in the ’hood, I’m going to kill someone,” Garner told Buckley. “Or someone will kill me.”
At the bungalow, Garner gets not only a respite from the gang wars that overshadow life in Little Village, but time to figure out what direction he wants his life to take. He has a 4-year-old son who lives in Villa Park and, perhaps, one day could be an anchor in his life. “I always wanted a family,” he tells Buckley.
There’s no cure-all for what ails the South and West sides. Fixes need to be multifaceted, and they can’t rest solely on the shoulders of law enforcement and the courts. Better schools, more jobs and reinvestment in neglected neighborhoods are top-shelf priorities. Providing a temporary refuge to pull at-risk youths out of corrosive environments is also a different, meaningful act. It’s nothing less than an extraction — a lifesaving rescue.
We’ve written often about youths cut down before they could escape. There was drive-by victim Jaylin Ellzey, the 15-year-old Roseland boy whose only wish was to, as his uncle said, “live another day.” And Jonathan Mills, 26, a North Lawndale basketball standout on his way to a career in international leagues when he died in hail of bullets in 2016.
And, as Buckley wrote, there’s the person whose death preceded the bungalow idea — Jason Barrett, 24, shot to death on the Far South Side in 2017. Barrett had been featured in the CNN series “Chicagoland” and was trying to turn his life around, with the help of former Fenger High School Principal Liz Dozier. Dozier founded Chicago Beyond, the nonprofit that two years ago linked up with Inner-City Muslim Action Network to buy the Southwest Side bungalow.
“There are how many hundreds of Jasons already this year,” Dozier told CNN in 2017, “and the sad thing is there will be how many hundreds more.”
Today, there’s always a waiting list to get into the safe house. That’s a sign of the program’s promise. But it also suggests that, if there were more bungalows, more at-risk individuals could be rescued.