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City targets drug abuse to help stop violence in West Garfield Park

First came law enforcement, then city departments fixing infrastructure and agencies with help for drug abuse. The city’s new Keeping Our Communities Safe Initiative this week targeted the “Pulaski Corridor,” a West Garfield Park area notorious for its prolific drug problems.

Police investigate violence in 2018 in West Garfield Park, where the city’s new Keeping Our Communities Safe Initiative launched Sunday with the support of extra police, city services and help for drug addiction.
Justin Jackson/Sun-Times file photo

It was the West Side Chicago community No. 1 among all 77 in murders per capita last year.

This year, West Garfield Park moved up a little. It’s dropped to No. 3.

Simultaneously, a part of that community known as the “Pulaski Corridor” retained the dubious record of highest number of drug overdoses citywide — mostly heroin.

This week, the neighborhood in the beleaguered Harrison (11th) Police District that includes West Garfield Park, Humboldt Park, North Lawndale and East Garfield Park saw an unusual influx of city support.

Extra police. City services. Drug addiction help. All were part of the city’s new Keeping Our Communities Safe Initiative that launched Sunday on the West Side in a neighborhood desperately in need.

“As part of the summer violence analysis that has been going on, the West Side contributes a significant number of shootings and homicides to the overall city numbers, and District 11 tends to have concentrated levels. So we looked deeper into that, and this ‘Pulaski Corridor’ emerged,” Deputy Mayor of Public Safety Susan Lee told the Chicago Sun-Times.

“What distinguishes this effort from others is we are looking at overdoses and violence as public health issues, wanting to make sure we are starting something we can sustain.”

Susan Lee, Deputy Mayor of Public Safety
Provided photo

Sunday brought city and federal law enforcement swooping down on the prolific open-air drug markets in West Garfield Park, and executing warrants.

Community policing officers went door to door asking residents what the community needs and informing them of help that would be available this week. Street outreach organizations offered gang members and those with justice system involvement the hard-to-come-by help to leave that life behind.

That continued till Tuesday.

Wednesday brought city departments from Streets and Sanitation to Water into the community, where city workers could be seen fixing everything from street lights to potholes and graffiti along the corridor. They’ll finish up Friday.

At the same time, drug addiction agencies set up camp at the Legler Branch Library at 115 S. Pulaski Road — currently being renovated into the West Side’s first regional library in 40 years — counseling and referring residents for clinical services.

On Friday, the city will again converge on the community, bringing all city departments and some 30 community groups to the library to offer resources. They’ll proffer everything from jobs and assistance programs for the poor, to health screenings, drug overdose prevention kits and clean needles.

That third phase runs through Sunday, with Mayor Lori Lightfoot expected out Saturday.

“Looking at overdose data from the Chicago Fire and Chicago Health departments initially is what highlighted this as an area of concentrated drug activity, and we actually knew competition over those drug corners in the 11th District is what drives a lot of the violence,” said Lauren Spiegel, senior adviser for policy and research in the Office for Public Safety.

The 11th District’s four community areas are among the five registering the most overdoses citywide. The fifth is Austin.

“This is really one of the last areas that still has these open-air markets,” Spiegel said.

“It’s been a lucrative area to be controlled, but this connection between open-air drug markets and violence and trying to address that holistically is something that has not been done. We think it’s the way to start.”