The southern suburb of Harvey has a rich history – originally it was designed to be a model town and part of the temperance movement. It was once a bustling manufacturing hub and housed Dixie Mall. But, when the industry dried up, the economy of the suburbs suffered.
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In recent years, Harvey has faced financial problems and political infighting, and he struggles with poverty, unemployment and crime. But officials and community leaders here say they are working to turn the situation around. And residents say that even with the challenges facing the suburb, they are proud of where they come from.
Johnny Arrington Jr. is a permanent resident of Harvey. Growing up in Harvey, Arrington connected with Restoration Ministriesa local community organization that offers a range of services, from recovery programs to after-school programs.
Arrington became a member of the Harvey Boxing Club of Restoration Ministries during his sophomore year of high school and then he also connected to other programs, which he says changed the trajectory of his life.
Now Arrington is the manager of the boxing club.
“The circle is complete, it’s really cool. The same place that poured down on me, I run now and now I’m tasked to pour down on these other young men and women,” Arrington said.
Video: Watch our full interview with Johnny Arrington Jr.
Another organization in Harvey working to help community members is CEDA, the Community Economic Development Association. Harvey was recently named one of nine cities across the country to receive a grant from the Robin Hood Foundation to fight against poverty. CEDA oversees this initiative, which is called Lift Harvey.
The initiative offers a range of programs for young people, including vocational training.
Michae Wiley-Edgecombe says they are already seeing an impact in the community. An example is a group of young people they call the “fab six”.
“We connected them with our summer jobs program. They have gone through our pre-employment program. And they are now part of our entrepreneurship program as well,” said Wiley-Edgecombe.
Machelle Anderson oversees Uplift Harvey. Although the grant spans three years, she believes the impact will be long term.
“When you have disengaged people in the community, it only takes one thing to start making a change. Where people might say, “Hey, let’s get back to Harvey, there’s new stuff happening,” Anderson said.
A new administration
The suburban government has been dealing with allegations of political corruption and mismanagement for years. In 2019, longtime mayor Eric Kellogg resigned and one of his main critics, Christopher Clark, took over.
Clark says he worked to help move Harvey in a better direction. One of the areas of focus is the police department, after allegations of a culture of corruption and misconduct. Clark’s efforts include a national search for a new superintendent.
Over the past few months, city officials said the department has implemented positive changes. This includes a new anonymous whistleblower system, the arrival of new officers and a gunshot detection system.
“Of course, nothing happens overnight. Hopefully this can happen sooner rather than later. We are actively working every day to try to get the officers we need, the workforce,” Deputy Chief Cameron Biddings said.
Like other communities across the country, Harvey has seen violence increase amid the pandemic. In 2021, Harvey committed 31 homicides, according to county data. This is the highest number among Cook County municipalities outside of Chicago.
Mayor Clark says much of the violence in Harvey is caused by people who don’t live in the community.
“Harvey has always been a tight-knit, tenacious community that has always worked together, but when we have others running through our town and causing trouble in our town, that’s where the problems are,” said said Clark.
Video: Watch our full interview with Christopher Clark.
The city has also been working to attract more investment to the area. City Council recently passed a $17 million housing development in downtown Harvey that is expected to bring 51 one-, two-, and three-bedroom residential units.
“It’s a huge deal. It’s an indication that the private sector is watching Harvey, that we’re open for business. They see we can deliver projects. They’re happy with the new administration and being able to work with us” , said Timothy Williams, city administrator.
The impact of COVID-19 in Harvey
Harvey is largely a working-class area, and nearly a third of residents live below the poverty line, so the coronavirus pandemic has hit the area hard.
Pastor Lonnie Harrison, founder of Refuge Church Midwest in Harvey, said COVID-19 has exacerbated already existing issues like poverty and disinvestment.
“COVID has come through like a hurricane for the city, but I believe the city is still about faith and we are working on it to the best of our abilities…I believe we are still fighting to bounce back,” Harrison said. .
Harrison’s wife, Helouise, says their parishioners are still looking for hope and opportunities to come together.
“I think we are hopeful. Of course, depending on the weather, sometimes you see there is more despair. At the same time, we don’t stay like that. Parishioners, we remain hopeful, we unite,” said Helouise.
Meanwhile, the area hospital — the University of Chicago’s Ingalls Memorial Hospital — is struggling to keep up with the omicron’s rise to power. It has been running at 100% capacity for a few weeks, said Corrin Steinhauer, vice president of patient care services and chief nursing officer at the University of Chicago Medicine. Ingalls Memorial Hospital.
Steinhauer says the hospital is experiencing long emergency department lines and bed capacity issues because COVID-19 patients require special isolation. At the height of the hospital, there were 95 COVID patients in the hospital.
The Pritzker administration on Tuesday approved a federal staffing application to send a 26-person team from the National Disaster Medical System to help support the hospital.
Community Report Series
“Chicago Tonight” is expanding its community reporting. We’re taking to the streets to talk with your neighbors, local businesses, agencies and leaders about COVID-19, the economy, racial justice, education and more. See where we went and what we learned using the map below. Or select a community using the drop-down menu. Dots in Red represent our COVID-19 Across Chicago series; blue marks our “Chicago Tonight” series in Your Neighborhood.