Last spring, a Chicago resident fired off an email to her alderman complaining about the litter covering a vacant parcel of city-owned land near her home in the South Shore neighborhood. The appearance of the mess, she noted, had coincided with an increase in loitering outside the restaurant next door, the same restaurant where four men had been killed in a shooting two years earlier.
The woman’s email drew a swift response from city officials. Early the next morning, a white van dropped off a cleanup crew to clear the vacant lot on East 75th Street and South Coles Avenue. The men worked for Safer Foundation, a nonprofit that helps ex-offenders and other job-seekers get back on their feet. The workers scooped empty beer cans, cigarette butts, and other detritus into plastic bags and tossed them into a garbage truck idling across the street. They also cleaned the sidewalk and trimmed a set of overgrown trees whose gnarled branches hung low, a potential hazard for inattentive passersby. “We wouldn’t want people to get hit in the eye walking by,” said Al Jacoby, the Safer Foundation’s director of transitional employment, as he watched the crew at work.
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