Thousands are being deported without a chance to appear before an immigration judge.
But Purdis, 46, always seems to succeed in the face of hardship, a quality the Chicago Housing Authority hopes many other residents have in the coming years as its Plan for Transformation goes forward. The agency is demolishing thousands of units and replacing many developments with mixed-income communities that might not accept many former residents.
At 19, Purdis moved to California and landed a job as a secretary for a real estate firm. But, after ending a relationship with an abusive boyfriend, she and her 9-month-old daughter went back to her mother's apartment in Cabrini-Green.
After returning, Purdis suffered long bouts of depression, but eventually began reconstructing her life. She had another child, went back to nursing school and began volunteering at her daughter's preschool at nearby Wayman African Methodist Episcopal Church. She was elected president of her building and joined the Cabrini-Green Local Advisory Council, the official resident leadership group.
But, in 1998, she had to move again. The CHA demolished her building and relocated many residents, including Purdis, to private-market apartments with vouchers. That, she now says began "the worst three years of my life."
Despite high utility bills for her South Shore apartment, Purdis bounced back again. She became a teacher's assistant at the preschool and got a second job. And she started her own business, Talk of the Town Decoration, doing clothes alterations, party decorations and flower arrangements for her friends and co-workers.
In 2002, Purdis qualified to move into North Town Village, a new mixed-income community next to Cabrini-Green, and now lives in a townhome with a balcony overlooking the development.
Around this time, Purdis expanded her business with the help of One Economy Corp., a nonprofit that gave her a laptop computer as part of a pilot project for 100 low-income families.
She is now planning to get further training from the Chicago-based Women's Self-Employment Program. "Black people are going to be struggling for a long time," said Purdis. "And the only way you get over in this world is to be independent and start your own."
She recently spoke with The Chicago Reporter about her struggles and her new life.
What was Chicago like for a public housing resident in the 1970s?
I hated Chicago at that time because of how the people were. People didn't want you to move. Chicago was a really prejudiced place. I wanted to work. I wanted to get a house. It was really difficult. So a friend of mine invited me to California. When I went there, I liked it. And they offered me a place, and I ended up moving.
Was life better when you returned to your mother's?
Ten years ago, it was really a struggle. When I first came here, there was a serious problem with gangbanging. People in one building could not even go around the corner to the store. When I first moved back to Cabrini, I was burglarized six times.
It was hard for a person like me, who had owned my own home, and my own car –¦ to come back. I had to try to fit in, because if I didn't fit in, I would probably end up being a victim of Cabrini. By trying to fit in, I got involved with people who did drugs. I got kind of a little out of control. Coming back was a slow process.
[As a building president], I organized building conferences. We had picnics, family outings. We did a lot of gardening around the building trying to keep it clean. We made [other residents] floor captains to put more people in charge. I kept going to school, marching, fighting and just hoping.
What happened when the CHA demolished your building?
I moved into a house out South. My rent was the same like it is here, but on the top of the rent, my gas bill was like $300 or $400. My light bill was almost $200 a month. So I had to get a second job just to take care of the lights.
I was away from my home a lot, and I noticed my son needed me, my daughter needed me. They were having a few social and emotional problems. My daughter hung out with people on the street. My son, he [gained] a lot of weight because of emotional things. But I was too tired to become involved with the family issue. So I quit the second job, but I still had to come up with something that brings extra money. That's how Talk of the Town Decoration came in.
How did you start it?
I did decorations for people all over town, from family to friends. My family told people, you know, word of mouth. I did a few flower arrangements. People see what you have done, and they want something similar. That's how I got started. Sometimes I volunteered to do it. And it turned out to be really great. I knew from then on that was the thing for me to do.
How did getting a computer change your business?
I got a flier one day, and I saw, –˜Do you want a laptop?' This was just what I needed. [One Economy offered] a three-week course called Digital Opportunity. The first week was instructional, and using the Internet for the second week, and the third week was using applications, such as how to protect your computer against viruses and saving data.
I was going to the library before to print out whatever I needed. [But with a computer at home,] I can just send a lot of stuff without even leaving the house. I save on bills and stamps. It's really helpful. And now, I have a way for people to get in touch with me through e-mail.
What is your goal now?
I will have an orientation with the Women's Self-Employment Project. They will show me how to do a budget, invest money, how to get loans and [prepare] business plans. Within five years, I want to be established in Chicago as a business person. I have a business, and I've been doing business now for the last year. But I cannot reach a lot of people. Lots of people even don't know that I exist. But I thought, –˜computer, new place, new school –¦ all within walking distance. What a blessing.' Now I think I am moving up to a level that I always wanted.
How do you feel when you look over at Cabrini-Green?
I am just blessed that I had this opportunity to be here.
Most of the people in Cabrini, I mean, they don't even grow up. They never see the life. And most of my boys in my brothers' and sisters' families--they are in jail. They cannot come out to get a job. So they go back to do what they were doing to get them arrested in the first place.
I can be responsible for my mother and my sister. I am a pioneer for them. I let them see that, –˜Don't be afraid of something that you never had before. If you have someone else ahead of you, you can always ask for help on how to do something.'
You know, if I continue to go as I am, it will get better. It will get better. Definitely.