The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want.”
The Bible’s entire 23rd Psalm is written in marker, framed on the yellowed stucco wall next to the red flyswatter hanging from a nail. Cans of food line the shelf in the tiny coat closet, a makeshift pantry.
The psalm is a reminder to keep going when times get tough, said Curtis Horton, 48. He and his partner, Henrietta Riley, 54, are residents of the Hotel Chateau, a single-room-occupancy hotel in Lakeview. And for them, times have been tough and quite possibly could get even tougher. They recently found out that the hotel has been sold and will be emptied and rehabbed.
“We read it for strength,” Horton said of the psalm on the wall. “It’s something to keep us going and keep us focused on making it in the world. It’s a message for us to keep the strength.”
“He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul.” –Psalm 23:2
Horton and Riley have lived at the Chateau for about a year. They’ve bounced around from place to place for the last few years, even moving in with Riley’s daughter in her Section 8 apartment for awhile. But when that building was unexpectedly sold, they ended up here, one of the few remaining SROs in Lakeview.
The day they came to the Chateau, there was one vacant room, but it wouldn’t be available until repairs were made. They spent the day in a nearby Starbucks and the night on the street. The next day, they moved in.
“This is my home,” said Riley. “It’s the only place I have to call home besides a shopping cart.”
“He leads me in the paths of righteousness for his names’ sake.” –Psalm 23:3
Horton and Riley don’t mind that the Chateau is run down. They wave off the building’s code violations, saying it’s an affordable place to stay in a good area. Riley says she loves the neighborhood’s culture and diversity, but mostly, they’re grateful for its safety.
“Try living on the West Side in Austin where you have to look over your shoulder any minute, waiting for someone to jump you or rob you. I’ve been hit over the head, stabbed,” said Riley.
“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: For you are with me.” –Psalm 23:4
But now that the Chateau has been sold and will be gutted and rehabbed, residents fear it will be reopened as higher-end studio apartments like other former SROs in the neighborhood. Horton and Riley are scared. They don’t know of anywhere to live that they can afford.
Riley worked as an insurance evaluator for 25 years, but then had a brain aneurysm. She’s been on disability ever since. Horton, a former cook, is now unemployed, but gets a $400 check each month from a trust his grandmother left him.
“It’s even hard to get in a shelter nowadays,” said Horton.
At the Chateau’s housing-court hearing on Jan. 29, inspectors complained that trash chutes were clogged up to the second and third floors, with garbage spilling into the hallways. The fire alarm system isn’t reliable, and the door to the elevator doesn’t open ll the way. But the couple’s apartment is neat and clean. They take pride in it.
“Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life; And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” –Psalm 23:6
The latest housing-court hearing really shook up Horton and Riley. They just keep repeating the same thing:
“I don’t know where we’re going to go.”
This post was originally published on Feb. 18, 2013 on Chicago Muckrakers.