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Fuller Park: Small Community, Big Problems

The City of Chicago is home to several neighborhoods where the rates of violent crime are, unfortunately, often high.

But there's one neighborhood that we don't hear of often, here on our newscasts.

The Fuller Park community area is home to just 2,800 people–but because it's so small, it's ranked among the city's most crime-ridden neighborhoods, per capita.

But for the people who call the area home, there's more to improving the neighborhood than just stemming what little crime there is.

Brandis Friedman has this look at Fuller Park.


Brandis Friedman: On this 15-block strip between two train tracks lies a neighborhood split by the Dan Ryan Expressway. Community area number 37, or Fuller Park.

This has been Charmaine Nathan’s home since 1992, when she was 22 years old.

Charmaine NathanCharmaine Nathan Charmaine Nathan: I had a friend around here who wanted me to come move closer to her, ‘cause I had a child at that time. I liked the neighborhood.

BF: For the last 12 years, Nathan has been helping her husband, Billy, live out his dream of running a restaurant: I-94 Ribs and Grill, at the corner of 47th and Shields.

CN: We sell rib tips, gyros, chicken wings. So that's the main thing, the barbeque.

BF: As much as she appreciates her neighborhood, Nathan admits it’s been losing businesses, and neighbors, for years.

CN: It's a nice place to live. It's just a lot of abandoned buildings.

BF: Where's the friend who told you to move over here?

CN: She moved away! A few friends gone, since I first came over here ... they gone too.

BF: Do you think you had more business 10 years ago than today?

CN: Yeah, ‘cause there were two convenience stores on the block, Laundromat. All of that is gone.

BF: Despite the losses, at least one new neighbor has moved into Fuller Park in recent years: The scene shop for a Chicago icon, the Goodman Theatre.

Scott ConnScott Conn Scott Conn, Goodman Theatre Scene Shop: Now we're coming into our warehouse, which is where we store extra materials and to the right and left, where the scenery parts are.

BF: It’s here at the edge of Fuller Park, that Goodman Theatre staff builds every set and prop for theater productions.

SC: It really was the type of building that we were looking for. The other thing that really sold us on it was the location: the proximity to downtown where our theater is, in the Loop, being able to access that easily with trucks, get deliveries. Just easy accessibility for our purposes.

BF: But few other businesses have been able to meet their needs in Fuller Park.

As the industrial jobs of the mid-20th century dried up, population in Fuller Park fell, and poverty rose.

Statistics show population in Fuller Park steadily declining from 7,300 people in 1970, to just under 2,900 in the 2010 census.

Michael Howard: You have to go back to when it all started on the decline. When the Dan Ryan was put in in the ‘60s, it actually wiped out half of the community. I think it was chosen because it was expendable. So we lost our entire business district, homes that paralleled the business district.

BF: Michael Howard runs Eden Place Nature Center and the Fuller Park Community Development Corporation, both established, he says, to help revitalize the community.

Below, photos from Eden Place Nature Center:

  • Eden Place Nature Center (Brandis Friedman)

    Eden Place Nature Center (Brandis Friedman)

  • Eden Place Nature Center (Brandis Friedman)

    Eden Place Nature Center (Brandis Friedman)

  • Eden Place Nature Center (Brandis Friedman)

    Eden Place Nature Center (Brandis Friedman)

  • Michael Howard, right, at Eden Place Nature Center (Brandis Friedman)

    Michael Howard, right, at Eden Place Nature Center (Brandis Friedman)

It’s a job that keeps getting tougher.

The U.S. Census shows unemployment in Fuller Park stands at 34 percent, and more than 51 percent of residents are living below the poverty level.

One of the area’s two elementary schools was among those shuttered in the 2013 school closures. Hendricks Elementary is the only one that remains.

Michael HowardMichael Howard MH: We have a hard time attracting new families into the community because that's one of the major decision makers for families when they want to move into an area. Now we have been able to attract new development in the last 10 years. We've put about 30 new homes in Fuller Park that were not here 10 years ago.

BF: Crime stats compiled by the Chicago Tribune show that last month, Fuller Park ranked first in violent crime per capita, among the city’s 77 community areas.

September was deadly.

Three people were killed and two others were wounded in a shooting near a playground. It’s the kind of violence residents here say is rare.

Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd Ward): There has been sporadic violence. Unfortunately, when you have an incident like we had a month and a half ago, where several people were shot and killed, that focuses a lot of attention on the community. But I would say that, that kind of violence is rare.

BF: Contributing to the hardship is the high number of people re-entering the community from jail and prison.

Fuller Park consumes a sliver of the city’s 60609 zip code. The Cook County Sheriff’s office says it released almost 2,000 inmates to that zip code in 2014.

Records show that in 2014, the Illinois Department of Corrections released 259 inmates from state prisons to that same zip code.

“We've trained well over 3,000 men and women from the Fuller Park area and we've made a difference, not enough, but we have made a difference.”

–Michael Howard

Howard works to help those individuals find training and work.

MH: When you compound so much poverty with illiteracy and poor education, the outcomes are not that good. If you look at most of the ex-offenders that we work with that come to us for our job training programs, more than 65 percent are testing at third- and fourth-grade reading level.

We've trained well over 3,000 men and women from the Fuller Park area and we've made a difference, not enough, but we have made a difference. The problem is we can't keep up with the new crop that comes in.

BF: But he says there’s only so much he can do on his own.

Ald. Pat DowellAld. Pat Dowell Ald. Pat Dowell, whose 3rd Ward includes Fuller Park, hopes to see at least a slow economic revival for the area, as neighboring communities improve.

PD: I do think we need more retail in the area, and we've got some coming. I think people need to see that kind of investment, or some positive investment coming.

BF: Until then, residents like Howard and the Nathans will defend and support their neighborhood, no matter how small.

For “Chicago Tonight,” I’m Brandis Friedman.

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