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Chicago Area Flood Victims Face Long Lines

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Chicago Area Flood Victims Face Long Lines

Albany Park flood victims on September 14, 2008. (WBEZ/Andrew Gill)

Victims of the flooding that hit the Chicago area last month are still struggling to recover but they now have a couple more days to get a little help from the federal government. The disaster food stamp program was scheduled to end yesterday but it’s been extended until Friday at 5 PM. It offers free food stamps to flood victims and thousands of Chicago area residents have spent their days waiting in line hoping to get some help.

Linda Granger is sitting in a lawn chair outside a public aid office on Chicago’s South Side. She’s actually waiting in line. A temporary wooden police barricade runs parallel to the building so that no one can cut into the line. Granger is just one of a couple hundred people who have been waiting here all day but she doesn’t mind because she wants all the help she can get after last months floods.

GRANGER: I have a daycare and I have a mini arcade in my basement. We had a basketball...

The games all shorted out when water covered all the electrical. Nearby, Qiana Simmons is leaning against one of the blue police barricades. Her basement has flooded four times.

SIMMONS: Sewage and all that. And you know that’s, that’s just a nasty sight.

Like everyone in line, Simmons has been waiting for hours. A spokeswoman with the Illinois Department of Human Services which has been distributing the food stamps for the last couple weeks says people have been lining up at midnight in front of the public aid offices for the next morning. And like, Simmons, they’re just hoping for the best.

SIMMONS: I have three kids and I need some help.

WILDEBOER: Do you have any idea what you might get here? Or what are, you’re just standing here...

SIMMONS: We’re just standing here to see what happens. I have not a clue. I guess extra food stamps. I don’t know about cash but just food stamp, food for my kids but I don’t know exactly what they’re going to give us yet.

That’s something I hear over and over again. People have no idea what they’ll get but they patiently wait in line. If all goes well, they’ll fill out an application, and then do an interview. The pay-off? Families of four can get up to 5 hundred and sixty five dollars in food stamps. Two people can get 3 hundred and eleven dollars. Michael Carr? He’s on his own.

CARR: Give me the loot!

Carr’s basement flooded with water and sewage ruining the floors and the walls, and appliances like his washer, dryer, and water heater. His furnace is working but he doesn’t like to use it.

CARR: cause it smells...like sewer back up.

Carr has spent a good part of this week trying to access the food stamp program at different public aid offices.

CARR: I went to Blue Island I started there Monday of this week. I went monday morning at 5 o’clock, the lots were full, people was camped out like this. Tuesday the same way.

On this morning he came at 6:30 but then left.

CARR: Should have stayed.

When he came back two hours later the line was long and now he’s been waiting most of the day and he doesn’t even know what he’s eligible for.

CARR: Once you get inside you find out what you might be able to get.

WILDEBOER: So you’ve been waiting here in line for six hours and you don’t even know what for yet.

CARR: Right.

WILDEBOER: Why?

CARR: Cause it’s available. I was in the flood zone so the money’s available. I was going to take advantage of it. Anything will do. I’ll take anything they give me.

Along with the lengthy lines flood victims are having to deal with parking problems too. Near the blue island facility some had their cars ticketed and towed. Nearby businesses jumped on the opportunity and started charging 10 and 12 dollars for parking. The same troubles have plagued this Roseland location where cars up and down the street were also ticketed. Melvin Thornton who’s directing traffic points down the tree lined street.

THORNTON: If you look there, see on that post there where that square, all that’s no parking but people know, if you pull up there you can’t see that. All the trees is hiding it.

Thornton has taken it upon himself to solve the problem, he’s by no means official, but he’s helpful, and quite enthusiastic. He actually chases some cars down.

THORNTON: Come on, come on.

Thornton is a member at the House of Hope church right around the corner from the public aid office and he’s giving up his time to stand at the parking lot entrance telling people they’re welcome to park at the church.

THORNTON: Parking is free!

Thornton says people are coming to the public aid office because they’re poor and they need help and they don’t have money. He can’t stand to see them get stuck with 50 dollar parking tickets.

I’m Robert Wildeboer, Chicago Public Radio.

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