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3/26/2017 12:56:00 PM
'There is injustice here': East Chicago residents protest emergency transfer

Craig Lyons, Post-Tribune

Two letters demanding East Chicago city officials to delay the emergency transfer of West Calumet residents were prepared for delivery Friday.

One found its hands into Mayor Anthony Copeland's assistant after protesters rallied outside his City Hall office.

The second was left on the ground behind the East Chicago Housing Authority's Office — dropped after protesters slipped it into Executive Director Tia Cauley's window as her car pulled out of the parking lot and through a throng of protesters and West Calumet residents.

"There is injustice here," said the Rev. Cheryl Rivera, who attempted to pass Cauley the letter, and said the executive director's act further characterized "callousness" and "disrespect" shown to the residents forced to relocate because of lead and arsenic contamination.

East Chicago residents and activist groups protested the decision to start emergency transfers of the remaining residents at the West Calumet Housing Complex, which are set to start next week. Advocates have decried the process as it will upset the lives of the residents affected by lead and arsenic contamination, while officials from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development are assuring people the process will be smoother than it appears.

"They want out. But they want housing that is safe and comparable," Rivera said.

West Calumet resident Demetra Turner said she moved into the complex in May 2016 and by the time she finally settled in, she received the mayor's letter telling residents they had to move because of high levels of lead and arsenic in the soil.

On Tuesday, Turner received a letter saying that she'd be moved to an available unit in Chicago, a city she left more than 10 years ago because of violence.

"The violence in Chicago is staggering," Turner said. "That was 10 years ago. It's three times as bad now."

Turner and other West Calumet residents were told they'd be relocated to Chicago at the end of the month, but HUD officials said it's likely units will become available in East Chicago so people wanting to stay in Indiana won't have to leave the state.

HUD said 60 families received emergency transfer notices, with 30 families getting units in East Chicago and others in Illinois.

Since those notices went out, the 13 families slated to be transferred to Illinois could likely get a unit in East Chicago as other residents find permanent housing. Eight of those 13 will get a temporary unit elsewhere in East Chicago, according to HUD, but the remaining five might have to take a short-term unit in Illinois unless others open up.

"HUD's desire is that these families do not have to cross state lines if at all possible, but it will ultimately depend on how many units are available in East Chicago and how many families still remain onsite as we move closer to March 31," HUD said in a statement.

Residents can also appeal the unit they were assigned, HUD said.

For residents, it's not just where they'll get moved but a desire to keep their children in East Chicago schools with nearly two months left for the year.

"All we are asking is to allow us to be here until the end of the school year," Turner said.

Resident Akeeshea Daniels said she has one son in school and moving him at this point in the year would be detrimental to his education.

HUD said if families must temporarily relocate to Illinois, the East Chicago Housing Authority will provide free transportation so children can stay in their current schools.

"These people know they have to go," said Sherry Hunter, an activist with Calumet Lives Matter. "But it's all about their children."

HUD gave its approval for the East Chicago Housing Authority to begin emergency relocation by the end of March of the remaining families because of the high levels of lead and arsenic contamination at the complex, which is within the USS Lead Superfund site.

Officials agreed that the housing authority lacks the ability to keep the complex secure as residents move out, according to HUD, and that an adequate number of housing units were available to move people out of West Calumet.

The approval would give the East Chicago Housing Authority the ability to transfer West Calumet residents to other properties in East Chicago, Chicago and suburban Cook County, starting April 1, according to HUD officials.

HUD said after March 31, the East Chicago Housing Authority will begin moving residents to their new units. Contractors will move people's belongings the week of April 3.

"We want this policy rescinded," Rivera said.

The Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority on Thursday approved $2 million to assist with the demolition of the West Calumet Housing Complex.

"Our primary concern is the health and well-being of the individuals and families living at the West Calumet Housing Complex," said Lt. Governor Suzanne Crouch, who serves as board chair of IHCDA, in a statement. "Once they have each been safely relocated, these funds will go toward boarding up windows and doors, securing the propertyand demolition once it can begin."

Rivera said that $2 million isn't enough to demolish the complex and safeguard the neighborhood.

"So what's the urgency?" Rivera asked.

Related Stories:
• Indiana approves $2 million grant for West Calumet House Complex demolition
• Old smelter north of Superfund site in East Chicago to be investigated
• East Chicago says it needs at least $56 million to address lead contamination crisis
• EPA plans to start excavation at East Chicago Superfund site in April
• Soil often a factor with lead-poisoned kids, professor says
• Expert: Chemical change likely contributed to lead in East Chicago water
• East Chicago residents lay out demands ahead of visit by EPA head Scott Pruitt
• EDITORIAL: High-level visits offer hope in East Chicago lead crisis
• East Chicago residents say EPA chief Pruitt made no commitments

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Editor, John C. DePrez Jr.; Executive Editor, Carol Rogers; Publishers: IBRC and IAR


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