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Catholic Charities offers aid to EC residents forced to move

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A warning sign is pictured on Sept. 15, posted in the West Calumet Complex, an East Chicago housing addition that is slated to be razed due to long-known concerns by the Environmental Protection Agency that the area's soil contains harmful levels of lead and arsenic. Catholic Charities has helped a number of effected residents with legal and financial assistance as they seek to relocate. (Anthony D. Alonzo photo)

 

 

by MARLENE A. ZLOZA

Northwest Indiana Catholic

 

EAST CHICAGO – Helping families in crisis is what Catholic Charities is all about, so it’s no surprise that residents of the West Calumet Housing Complex have a friend in the Diocese of Gary agency during their time of need.

     In light of federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) testing that determined 79 acres of land in East Chicago is contaminated by high lead and arsenic levels that requires a Superfund clean-up, East Chicago Mayor Anthony Copeland made the decision just this summer that all 1,100 residents of the West Calumet Housing Complex must move as soon as Nov. 1 to allow the entire complex to be demolished.

     The land was apparently poisoned by one or more smelting plants formerly at the site, and the EPA has reportedly been working on a plan to remove the contaminated soil since 2008, finally announcing details in May that would have allowed residents to remain while the soil around their homes was removed.

     Copeland disagreed, however, and residents, many qualifying as low-income and some who’ve lived at West Calumet since it was built in 1972, are now scrambling to pack up and move while also facing serious health concerns.

     “West Calumet is in Zone 2 of the three zones of contamination that were identified – the most contaminated part,” said LaShawn Jones-Taylor, program manager of emergency services for Catholic Charities. “So everyone in those units must move.

     “If they contact us, we can pay up to three months of past-due rent with funds sponsored to us from a grant from Foundations of East Chicago,” Jones-Taylor explained. “These funds are available to any E.C. resident, even those in other housing who are facing eviction. I’m not sure residents outside West Calumet are aware that they are included.”

     Getting current with their rent allows West Calumet residents who qualify to obtain the Section 8 housing vouchers that will provide a rent subsidy. “Because of this issue,” said Jones-Taylor, Section 8 vouchers “that usually take years to obtain” are being issued immediately.

      “The tenant still pays 30 percent of their rent, and HUD (U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development) pays the difference (up to a specific level depending on family size),” added Jones-Taylor.  “They can move wherever they choose to.”

     Catholic Charities has also partnered with Indiana Legal Services, said executive director Jennifer Dyer, to provide legal support. “They already have someone in our East Chicago office from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays and Wednesdays to meet with clients, but they want to do more,” she said.

     “They do not handle civil lawsuits,” added Jones-Taylor, “but they want to make people more aware of their rights, help them get into a safe place, and help if someone is denied a Section 8 for whatever reason.”

     Adam Mueller, director or advocacy for Indiana Legal Services, said:  “We feel it is important to work with a trusted partner, which Catholic Charities is, and to link our legal services to what Catholic Charities is doing in the community. We provide basic (legal) needs, whether it be housing issues, landlord-tenant disputes, public benefits like Medicaid and SNAP, and some consumer-related issues,” Mueller added of the services provided free based on income and eligibility requirements.

     In the case of West Calumet residents, ILS can review the specific package of financial aid offered to a family to determine if it is fair and equitable. “They will know what people should be entitled to, and what they can ask for,” Jones-Taylor noted, include moving expenses, transportation costs and “how far a distance will they help you move?”

     Jones-Taylor said she is working with several residents, but hopes more will take advantage of Catholic Charities and ILS help. “If they didn’t plan to move, they may not know what to pack, where to move to a safe place, and other concerns,” she said. “There is free health testing available for all residents, to check the level of lead in their system, but they will have to continue to be tested periodically.”

     Dyer urged residents of the contaminated area to contact Catholic Charities for assistance. “That’s the great work LaShawn and her team does, they help put all the pieces together (for each client). . .it’s not just one size fits all,” she said.

     “Catholic Charities meets families in crisis and helps them move forward out of crisis, and this is another example of the crises that our families face,” Dyer added.

For more information on Catholic Charities aid, contact the 3901 Fir St. office at 397-5803. For an Indiana Legal Service appointment in East Chicago or to ask a question, call (844) 243-8570.

 

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LaShawn Jones-Taylor, emergency services program manager for Catholic Charities, is pictured on Sept. 15 viewing a section of the West Calumet Complex, an East Chicago housing addition that is slated to be razed due to long-known concerns by the Environmental Protection Agency that the area's soil contains harmful levels of lead and arsenic. The diocesan agency has helped a number of those residents with legal and financial assistance as they seek to relocate.

(Anthony D. Alonzo photo)

 

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East Chicago resident Jesse Rios, 19, is pictured on Sept. 15 walking in the West Calumet Complex, a housing addition that is slated to be razed due to long-known concerns by the Environmental Protection Agency that the area's soil contains harmful levels of lead and arsenic. Catholic Charities has helped a number of effected apartment dwellers with legal and financial assistance as they seek to relocate.

(Anthony D. Alonzo photo)

 

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