Housing crisis

Longtime community activist in Aurora, another victim of the housing crisis – Chicago Tribune

Mary Fultz is not the kind of person who asks for help, unless it’s for someone else.

In fact, Aurora’s 56-year-old wife has been at the forefront of that city’s ongoing efforts to make its neighborhoods safer and its policies fairer for minority residents.

For those who don’t remember the many times over the past 15 years this newspaper has covered her efforts as a community activist, allow me to provide a brief summary.

In 2006, Fultz founded the Community Advocacy Awareness Network which has sponsored events such as unit dinners, fundraisers for children of murder victims, children’s summer programs, health fairs , bookmobiles, food banks and legal education, to name a few.

She also held a series of neighborhood meetings, conducted surveys, held protests and vigils, met with community leaders and petitioned the city council numerous times in her quest to give voice to those who are not. often not heard, including homeless veterans.

Fultz became so involved in social work after surviving a serious battle with cervical cancer in 2001 that led to “a promise to God” that she would dedicate her life to helping others.

At the moment, she receives more than a few calls from people who are struggling to find accommodation. This is where I must mention the point of this column: Mary Fultz is currently homeless herself.

It was a hard realization that hit her not too long ago when she had to sleep in her car after being accidentally locked in one of the houses where she had been surfing since she was had lost the place she called home for 14 years, all because the owner had to sell the property due to his own financial situation.

“Believe me, I understand the financial hardship landlords have been through,” she said, referring to the many people who are not paying rent during the pandemic due to eviction moratoriums and financial hardship. “The owners are also in a difficult situation.”

As director of housing and support services for the Hesed House homeless shelter in Aurora, Karen Whitney sees cases like Fultz more than ever because affordable housing, not exactly plentiful even before COVID-19, has become even rarer.

Not only is the rent about 33% higher, but landlords are demanding higher credit scores as well as three times the income to rent ratio, which means a person would have to earn $3,000 a month for 1,000 $ rent, Whitney pointed out. outside.

Landlords, she added, are unwilling to waive the higher criteria for those on Section 8 vouchers, making it even harder for low-income residents who have been displaced in due to the pandemic.

Whitney worked for many years with Fultz, who volunteered alone and with her meals advocacy group at Aurora Shelter. So she was surprised when Fultz contacted her last October, not as a volunteer, but as a woman with a family desperate for a home.

Since then, Whitney and her team have been trying to help Fultz find a place to live. And although “Mary has come close a hundred times,” they have yet to secure a lease.

“Every time I think I’m going to get a spot,” Fultz said, “I find out the paperwork isn’t being processed quickly enough” and she loses to another candidate.

“Fourteen years ago, subsidized programs seemed to help people. These days, that just doesn’t seem like enough.

With February and options running out, Fultz had no choice but to go to the shelter. Due to a COVID-19 outbreak at the time, Whitney added, Fultz was placed in a hotel, where she is now staying with the two teenage granddaughters she is raising.

But time is running out – she has until the end of the month at the hotel – as is Fultz’s optimism and patience.

“My hands are up right now,” she told me a few days ago after more paperwork issues cost her a spot she thought she might have secured at Plainfield.

“Mary’s case is particularly compelling,” Whitney told me, because she had been a good tenant for 14 years and, through no fault of her own, had to move.

“If it happened to him, it can happen to a lot of people,” she says of Fultz, who even applied for Section 8 housing in Houston, Texas, and surrounding counties.

Whitney says she has contacted an agency that specializes in this issue and hopes it will come to fruition for Fultz. In the meantime, this longtime community volunteer continues to receive calls from people seeking her help, unaware that she too is in a precarious situation.

“I stand firm and try to help them in their situation as much as possible,” Fultz admitted, only to hang up the phone and shed his own tears.

Yet even as she lies in bed at night worrying about her situation, Fultz tells me she’s still “grateful” because she realizes there are people in the community. worse off than her.

Recently, while working with a trash collection group on Indian Trail, Fultz says her heart was touched by the appreciation of a homeless man who stumbled upon what these volunteers were doing and wanted to donate a few dollars. to effort.

Getting to know and helping this population over the years actually helps them “cope,” she says. “I understand how it can cause depression, despair. But it also makes me want to fight harder” for the homeless.

This in turn is what makes the others equally determined to find a solution for Fultz.

“There are a lot of people who need help, but there are some people we think about all the time,” Whitney said. “Marie is such a good person. Something has to give.

dcrosby@tribpub.com