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More On Spain. News all Most Read Most Recent. Cork Woman in her 40s found dead in Cork is THIRD homeless death in a week Campaign group asks how many more must die on streets before Government declares homeless emergency. But the promise of the big city was sweeter than the reality: just scraping along was a challenge for a large family in the teeming Black Belt. Ruthie Mae's father, now 87 and still living on the south side, loaded coal onto wagons in various yards, earning a meager wage.
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Ruthie Mae attended Phillips High School for a little more than a year. Signs of mental illness began appearing when she was in her twenties. Her relatives say they don't know the exact nature of her illness, and offer only hazy accounts of how it showed itself—she talked to herself, she would burst with anger unexpectedly.
Her mother, a devout Baptist, "chased us into church and taught us the way of the Lord," says a brother, Haywood McCoy. Now her siblings propose mainly spiritual explanations for what went wrong with Ruthie Mae. Haywood believes Ruthie Mae's problems began "when she got out of God. Ruthie Mae never married. She was 27 when Vernita, her only child, was born at Cook County Hospital. The father didn't stick around long, and his desertion left Ruthie Mae bitter at men in general.
Vernita had to stay with relatives off and on as a child because her mother was institutionalized several times. She managed OK when she was taking her medicine; when she wasn't, she talked to herself, and sometimes swore at strangers on the street. You don't know them—you might get hurt,'" Vernita recalls. Ruthie Mae's hulking frame may have discouraged others from retaliating. She was pounds, 5 feet 11 inches at her death, the coroner would determine.
She worked some menial jobs—laundromat attendant, housekeeper—but her mental problems prevented her from holding a job more than a month or two, and she spent most of her adult life on aid. She and Vernita lived in Dearborn Homes, a south-side housing project, during Vernita's early years, and then in cramped ghetto apartments on the south and west sides.
Vernita spent some time in Cook County Jail in after being convicted of aggravated battery—the circumstances of which she'd rather not discuss. She asked in one letter to the CHA to be placed in Wentworth Gardens, on the south side and near relatives; in another letter she asked specifically not to be placed in a high rise. But beggars can't be choosers; she was offered an 11th-floor unit in the Abbott Homes.
In May of '83, she moved into apartment From her fifth-floor apartment in an Abbott high rise, Pat, 32, a client at the Mount Sinai psychiatric center, has a view of all the action: "I hear shooting, I'm looking out the window and I see police coming. And I say, 'I wonder who done got shot now?
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Do you know that woman over there in the other building got shot earlier today? I better stay crazy. Children here are raised amid the tumult and grow accustomed to it. I was discussing McCoy's murder one morning with a young man in the lobby of her building when a young woman walked by, a toddler in tow.
She asked to speak to the man. But they're so animalistic in their own right, in the games they play—I see little kids throwing bricks and bottles at each other, and this is their game. Now I get mad —'God damn these little bastards. About 3, people live in the Abbott Homes, all of them black, most of them younger than About 85 percent of the families are headed by females. The lucky few—about people—reside in 33 two-story row houses; everyone else is in the seven high rises. Residents of ABLA are beaten, raped, and murdered more than twice as often as they are citywide Even by public housing project standards, the place is bad news.
But you don't hear anywhere near as much about this near-south-side project as you do about Cabrini-Green, which sits not far from the Gold Coast, the lakefront, and downtown. Abbott Homes' layout is a gang banger's dream—designed as if to facilitate crime. In a study of New York City high rises, renowned housing expert Oscar Newman found that crime rates increased with the height of the buildings, the size of the projects, and the distance of the buildings from streets. Superblocks of high rises like Abbott Homes were, in terms of crime, the worst possible combination for public housing, Newman wrote in his '72 book Defensible Space: Crime Prevention Through Urban Design.
The high rises promote anonymous living, he wrote, making it less likely that residents will look out for their neighbors; the lack of streets isolates the project and makes routine police surveillance difficult. Writing specifically about the Abbott high rises, Devereux Bowly Jr. Indeed, Wood directed the CHA in the late 40s and early 50s, when most of these massive slum-site projects were conceived. But she proposed such developments only after the City Council blocked her attempts to build smaller projects in various neighborhoods, many of them white, throughout the city.
In no project will you find stairwells darker or more forbidding than those in the Abbott towers.
Other projects have screened-in ramps, allowing some natural light to filter into the stairwells, but Abbott's corridors are completely enclosed; so when the light bulbs are burned out or missing in the stairwells, it's pitch black there. And the light bulbs are burned out or missing most of the time. There used to be three janitors per high rise at Abbott, the Janitor says; now there's usually just one. And then you put the bulbs in and the tenants steal them. Spiraling drug addiction in ABLA has of late made the high rises even more hazardous, say residents and others whose work takes them into the project.
But cocaine addiction is rampant in those buildings now, and so the need for money has soared. You put that on top of an already bad situation and it's a nightmare. Major drug dealers have operated out of ABLA for years, says Detective Leuser, who has worked in and around the project since Before, though, drug dealing was limited mainly to young males; today, many women in ABLA supplement their welfare checks by selling cocaine and marijuana.
Even elderly residents are dealing drugs now, Leuser says, though the seniors usually only sell marijuana. In the early 70s, the typical call for police service at ABLA was for drunk-and-disorderly disturbance involving husband and wife, he says; now, the calls are often for drug-related shootings and stabbings. They tend to wear new clothes and lots of jewelry and carry hulking radios, the benefits of their trade thus on display for ABLA youth, many of whom serve gladly as bootlickers for the gang. Grown-ups in ABLA are terrified of the Paymasters, to the extent that most of the residents I spoke with would not discuss, even anonymously, anything about the gang's operations.
Suffice it to say you can get narcotics in ABLA a lot quicker than you can get light bulbs. He says he never stole from strangers to support his habit—he was too frightened of jail—but he did rip off family members incessantly, taking cash and marketable goods from their homes. Most junkies he knew, though, had already progressed to burglaries and street stickups. Near ABLA, he says, "You can't walk down the street without somebody asking you for money or trying to rob you to support their habit. Tony and other addicts would often get high in one of the numerous vacant apartments in Abbott that have been commandeered by the pushers.
Apartments are supposed to be boarded whenever they're expected to be vacant more than a few days, but because of the shortage of supplies, and because there are so many other pressing jobs, janitors don't always get around to it quickly, the Janitor says. And even when an apartment does get boarded, he says, if the pushers really want to use it, they'll get in. Boarded up doesn't mean a damn thing—you got to put somebody [a legal tenant] in there.