Left Justified: RUM is on the move!

Rockford Urban Ministries (for which I work) is moving up the street to 201 Seventh St. This was a hard-fought battle with local developers (yes, they are buying up buildings here on Seventh Street). We even had a tussle with the city building permit department, until they finally denied occupancy for our erstwhile neighbor to the south, the Total Health Awareness Team.

We got in, though we had to explain what a “fair trade” store is (sells gift items “fairly traded” with the producers, as opposed to “free trade” with multi-national corporations) and just who the heck RUM is (a small United Methodist outreach doing housing rehab, community development, social justice advocacy since 1962 – I’ve been the director since 1985). Maybe the new mayor hired too many outsiders, or the old mayor had too many Chicago underlings, or no one reads the local rags.

But all that is water under the State Street bridge, as hundreds of volunteers help us move desks, filing cabinets and copy machines to our new abode. It will still be a big struggle. My RUM office itself, 12 by 13 feet, will not be ready for another week. The soon-to-be-opened Fair Trade Store will not be open until spring (their nonprofit board decided to spruce up 201 Seventh St., the former Hedrick Electric turned notorious liquor store). The original floor will be sanded, stained and varnished. Two accessible bathrooms will be installed as well as a break room and meeting room that will be open for public use. The very successful Fair Trade Store, selling gift items from worldwide mission and peace groups, should be open by Easter.

Seventh Street has seen a transformation since I moved down here in 1993. Many of the bars catered to the poorest and most alcoholic, and some even covered for the street sex providers as well as more illegal enterprises.

Zion Development Corporation, which has done so much in rehabbing this neighborhood, may be forced to try to build “market-rate” housing for upper middle-class people instead of doing what they’ve done best: providing affordable housing for hard-working, low-income families.

That will be my next battle with the city—protecting resources for the poor so that they aren’t used to attract the wealthy to do what is right anyway.

The RUM office should be open for a blessing Sunday, Jan. 15, Martin Luther King’s birthday. If not, it’s because the flooring was delayed.

Working and living on Seventh Street for 14 years has given me a jaundiced view of how to lift up a neighborhood. Believe it or not, one of the nonprofit agency heads suggested razing everything to the ground and starting over.

I like the idea of rehabbing these old buildings, even if they do take an arm and a leg. And it takes an assist from the “public sector.” City-guaranteed bank loans and outright grants have made a difference. People who used to live in ramshackle firetraps now enjoy snug, energy-efficient apartments.

Does Seventh Street demand big-time developers with big-time money who have no room for affordable housing? I pray that we all can just get along. Lord knows, there are enough empty buildings here for everyone. I do not support taking hard-earned (and hard-to-find) tax dollars and rehabbing the buildings for quarter of a million-dollar condominiums. I think helping working poor get a leg up is better than asking the filthy rich to step down.

Zion Development had a good idea in encouraging wealthy to voluntarily bring their resources back to this neighborhood. But subsidizing the rich? I don’t think so.

On the war front

People have been hoping and praying for the violence to lessen after the recent elections in Iraq. It was so hopeful to again see Iraqis exercise their newfound right to vote. But the war drags on. Will we ever see an end? U.S. Representative Manzullo should support an early withdrawal of the troops, or at least a resolution planning for a withdrawal of troops that could start by the end of the year. Such a bipartisan proposal is already being drafted but may never see the light of day because of the president’s intransigence for staying the “curse.”

I hope we see an end to war and a beginning of peace in 2006.

Stanley Campbell is executive director of Rockford Urban Ministries and spokesman for Rockford Peace & Justice.

From the Jan. 4-10, 2006, issue

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