The Towers Came Down, and With Them the Promise of Public Housing

On a December morning in 1989, amid a snowstorm, Annie Ricks let her third-oldest son, Cornelius, stay home from middle school. For months, she and her eight children had been sleeping on the floors of relatives’ apartments or in the lobby of the Cook County Hospital. She had lived on Chicago’s West Side, within the same few blocks, since moving there as a 10-year-old from a segregated mill town in Alabama. But her West Side apartment and every belonging in it had burned in a fire. Without a fixed address, she stopped receiving the public-assistance checks that had helped stretch what she earned in a factory molding plaster figurines.

When she considered the fact of her predicament, it simply didn’t make sense: Annie Jeffery Ricks was homeless? At 33, she’d been providing since she was a teenager. Her children were well fed and neatly dressed, their hair combed and cut and braided. The girls as well as the boys played basketball, and Ricks volunteered in their classrooms and attended their games.

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