[Photo by Sophia Nahli Allison]

Marilyn Franklin is sitting at the head of the dining room table in her townhouse, a white-brick walkup nestled in the middle of the Frances Cabrini Rownhouses.

As we’re talking, a handful of her grown nieces and nephews tiptoe through the kitchen and out the front door. Her nephew, Todd Franklin, trails behind. He stops, picks up Marilyn’s granddaughter and cradles her in his arms. He presses his nose to hers, sings her a song and then plants kisses across her face. The baby smiles.

During Cabrini-Green’s heyday, roughly 13,000 people lived in the sprawling public housing community on Chicago’s Near North Side. Among them were more than a dozen Franklins—including Marilyn’s own children, her sister, her nieces and nephews.

She lived in a series of Cabrini apartments over the years and had an open-door policy at each of them. Her nieces and nephews always gravitated to her place because she liked to pull out board games or spin records so they could put on talent shows. Those apartments have since been demolished, and, like most former Cabrini residents, her family is now scattered across Chicago’s South and West sides.

Marilyn’s rowhouse–one of roughly 150 old public housing units where families still live today–remains a safe haven for them. It’s one of the last places in the old neighborhood where they’re still welcome. And they’re willing to risk arrest to come visit.

As I reported yesterday, the area around the rowhouses has the second highest number of trespassing arrests in the city. Police have logged hundreds of stops among visitors.

It’s because of people like Marilyn who always have something cooking on the stove and advice to offer that they keep coming back. She acknowledges that some of her nephews aren’t exactly angels. They too are open about their brushes with the law. But none of that changes the fact that “Cabrini is home,” her nephew Antwan Franklin says while standing on her front stoop.

“We got the same last name,” says Antwan, who has been stopped twice in one day for trespassing. “We’re family, but the stereotyping goes so far that family don’t feel right standing together.”

As far as Marilyn is concerned, the arrests amount to harassment. “If [police] stop them and search them and they don’t find anything, that should be enough,” she said. “But they lock them up.”

So long as she’s living there, Marilyn says, her door will always be open to her nephews–and the rest of her family.

“They want something cooked, they come here,” she said. “If they’re here, they’ll tell each other, ‘We over at Titi’s house.’ Then they’ll come and bring their kids.”

“No matter what I do, I can’t get rid of them,” Marilyn adds playfully. “This will always be our home.”

is a staff reporter at The Chicago Reporter.