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Brookfield Zoo, a top tourist attraction, deserves state funding for repairs

Nava Greenblatt, lead animal care specialist for the Brookfield Zoo's Tropic World Asia, feeds and performs a training session with Kecil, a 4-year-old orangutan. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

One hundred years ago, Edith Rockefeller McCormick donated 83 acres to the Forest Preserves of Cook County with the vision of building a modern zoological park for the education and recreation of the public.

Since then, Brookfield Zoo has become the state’s most popular ticketed outdoor cultural destination.

Over 90 percent of our 2.2 million guests are Illinois residents, and we’re proud to boast 111,000 member families from all corners of our great state.

For a growing number of people, zoos provide their only connection to wildlife, and are the primary place for nature and science learning for children.

At a time when school resources are limited, our teacher training and community-based education programs reach more than 200,000 people annually, many from minority neighborhoods. We also work with veterans’ associations, children and families with disabilities, and other under-resourced sectors to further an inclusive conservation movement that provides innovative engagement opportunities for people of all backgrounds and abilities.

But we need help to maintain these vital programs.

Our campus spans 216 acres, and many of the zoo’s 80 buildings and 150 structures, first built in the 1920s, are in desperate need of repair. We’ve worked to balance affordability with growing maintenance costs. But as our infrastructure ages, we face an untenable situation that will eventually impact our ability to provide engaging experiences for Illinois residents.

That is why a coalition, including the Illinois Environmental Council and the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce, is calling on lawmakers and Gov. J.B. Pritzker to include infrastructure funding for Brookfield Zoo in the capital construction program under discussion at the state Capitol.

Every dollar we receive from the state to rehab aging structures is a dollar we can continue to invest in conservation, education, and our community.

Stuart Strahl, president and CEO of the Chicago Zoological Society

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Huge milestone for ex-offenders to access affordable, public housing

I want to commend the Chicago Housing Authority Board of Commissioners, which voted recentlyy to permit residents with a criminal conviction on their record an opportunity to access public housing.

It has been a 20-plus year struggle to get to this important milestone.

HUD adopted the “One Strike and You’re Out” Rule in 1996, effectively banning people with criminal records from public housing.

In 2011, then-HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan sent a letter to all public housing authorities in the U.S., asking them to rethink their admissions criteria and to join HUD in “welcoming these deserving citizens back into our communities.”

In 2014, the CHA Board of Commissioners engaged with a coalition of anti-homelessness advocates, re-entry service providers, and CHA tenants and staff, with support from the mayor’s office to create what become known as the CHA Reentry Pilot.

Over the past decades we have chipped and whittled away at public housing and affordable housing. At the same time we have undertaken a construction boom in U.S. government-subsidized housing in the form of prison cells.

Some 2 million people were locked up at the federal, state or local level. Eventually, almost all of them will return to the community. The question of where they will live is an immediate and critical one, and has important consequences for both the ex-offenders and society-at-large.

Ideally, incarceration should change an offenders’ assessment of the benefits and costs of crime in two ways. It should alter their value system, and it should enhance and enrich the options available to returning ex-offenders by offering real alternatives to their lifestyle before incarceration.

Most ex-offenders return to families or friends in their old neighborhoods. Often, this is the environment that helped them get into trouble in the first place. Chances are, they don’t have a job. Chances are they can’t afford first and last month’s rent. That creates the conditions: the lack of stability, the chaos, the poverty, where crime can flourish and where re-incarceration becomes almost inevitable.

I hope that public housing authorities and advocates will follow their example.

Now let us move urgently to creating enough affordable housing so every one of our people in Chicago, and across the nation, have access to a safe, healthy place to stay.

Danny K. Davis, U.S. representative, 7th Congressional District of Illinois

Stricter safety measures are a must for places of worship

With multiple active shooter incidents in mosques, synagogues and churches worldwide, it has now become apparent to step up our life-safety protocols in these public venues.

There is reluctance to implement safety measures in houses of worship, as these establishments feel it will lower their image of a “safe place of haven” for all who enter. This has now become a fallacy as the current rampage has created fear in all who attend any service.

There is a need to institute a level of safety that does not interfere with the current service.

It should be transparent so it doesn’t discourage members, especially the elderly from attending. Some of the proposals are to have armed attendees and make public notice that their members are carrying weapons. Worship leaders, ushers and others should be trained in the discipline of protecting and assisting all in harm’s way.

There is an urgent need to implement these safety measures now so that all may again feel safe in entering any house of worship.

Bob Sweeney, President, RES Associate