ENGLEWOOD — A pair of Englewood women's shelters due to close after accumulating more than $41,000 in fines for building code violation will stay open after all, the city confirmed.
This week Clara Kirk, founder and executive director of the West Englewood United Organization, which operates Clara's House and Clara's Place, both located at 1650 W. 63rd St., is no longer facing closure after paying the city of Chicago $1,000 to settle $41,969 in building code fines.
"Since March, a number of positive developments have occurred. There is a new board in place for the West Englewood United Organization. The city met with some of the members and reviewed a summary of their finances," said Roderick Drew, a spokesman for the city's law department. "We obtained proof that all the violations at the shelter have been remedied. Now that the case is closed, Ms. Kirk and her organization can continue their service within the community."
Shawn Warner, a legal adviser to Kirk, a 72-year-old mother of five and grandmother of seven, said he is grateful that the city finally agreed to settle at an amount Kirk could afford.
"The shelter is barely making ends meet and Ms. Kirk is doing every thing she can to keep the doors from closing," explained Warner. "Had she been forced to pay the original amount the city was seeking, she would have had no choice but to shut the shelter down and put all those women and children back out on the street."
Kirk's West Englewood United Organization runs Clara’s House, a transitional shelter where women can stay up to 120 days, and Clara’s Place, a 13-unit apartment building for long-term occupants.
Had the shelters been forced to close it would have meant that Justine Sanders, 41, and her 17-year-old son would have to find somewhere else to live after living at Clara's Place for 10 years.
“I'm glad the city will let us stay open. I had looked around at some other shelters but none were like this one," said Sanders. "It would be a difficult transition for me because I do not have my GED yet, and I still need to learn some job skills. I love Ms. Kirk for the patience she has had with me and for giving me and my son a roof over our heads all these years.”
Kirk said God answered her prayers.
"He might not come when you want him to but he is always on time," Kirk said. "You don't know how many nights this ordeal kept me up. The thought of putting these women and their children out on the streets broke my heart. And while I am still struggling to secure funding for the shelter, I know God will make a way."
Kirk said she has been running the shelters without any grants since 2005 and hopes by settling her debt with the city she can now start receiving government grants.
Warner said the city previously intercepted a $6,250 grant Kirk's organization received from the Illinois Violence Prevention Authority.
The total grant was for $25,000 but was to be paid out in four disbursements, Warner said.
However, Drew said while the city did intercept the grant, it only received $2,569, which was applied to Kirk's housing code fines. The remainder was sent back to the IVPA. State law allows the city to intercept grants if a debt is owed to it, added Drew.
According to Kirk, it takes roughly $275,000 a year to run Clara’s House, which is fully occupied, and $375,000 for Clara’s Place, which has 37 occupants, even though it could accommodate 59 people. Kirk said she does not have enough money to feed 59 people, which is why Clara’s Place is is not full.