I live a couple of blocks from an old hotel. It used to be called the Ridgeview, because it was within sight of Ridge Avenue in Evanston. The old Ridgeview is pictured above - this comes from an old postcard, postmarked April 4, 1962. The Ridgeview Hotel was built in1924, one of several "apartment hotels" that popped up in Evanston in the 1920's. These facilities were competing for the semi-transient resident that planned on staying in town for a few weeks to a few months. The units in these hotels had kitchenettes. The Ridgeview was sold in 1965 and received some extensive re-modeling. In 1971, it was sold again and converted from a hotel to a 430-bed long-term care facility for disabled adults receiving state assistance. It is still in use as a intermediate-term care facility and it serves mentally ill adults. Most of these folks are Medicaid patients.
There is a large park right across from the entrance of the Albany Care facility - Grey Park. When the weather is decent, the park is full of Albany Care residents, most of them enjoying tobacco products. This has generated a bit of controversy in the neighborhood (see this article for background). The residents also spend quite a lot of time in the neighborhood, walking around and hanging out. Since most of them are quite poor, they will sometimes ask pedestrians for some money. Their maladies can lead to some unusual public displays - shouting, nudity, public elimination of wastes, etc. The Albany Care building is a few blocks away from the main public transportation hub in the neighborhood, so there is an interesting dance that occurs between the commuters and the Albany Care residents. As one would expect, the interactions are not always positive.
Here is what I admire about the Albany Care folks - they are fearless! I see one fellow several times a week - he always wants to shake hands and he smiles at everyone. He also wants everyone to give him a dollar - hey, it never hurts to ask, I guess. Some people cross the street to avoid this guy. Others steam by and ignore him. Others engage with him and seem comfortable.
There are many other examples - there is the guy with the long gray hair that stands outside the Sher-Main Grill, chain smoking cigarillos and muttering "Have a good day, have a good day" to everyone he sees. Many others are trying hard not to be conspicuous; their eyes bulge out, like someone is choking them.
These people are my neighbors. I struggle with my gut instinct, which is to look away from them and march through their turf without acknowledging their existence, let alone our shared humanity. I have had times when I didn't feel 100% mentally stable, so I should have more empathy for the Albany Care folks. But I don't.
This is something I need to work on. Religious folks often say, "There but for the grace of God, goes me." This is a noble thought, but I can't embrace it. Belief in God's grace is similar to believing in a shaman's ability to beseech the spirits to send rain during a drought. These "faith" statements don't convince me - sorry about that.
What does engage me are unanswered questions - what is afflicting each resident of Albany Care? How did they end up there? How likely is it that they will get well and leave to join society? What sort of treatment do they receive from the staff? And so on.
It is always a challenge to stay mentally strong. Some folks are ill and can't tackle that challenge. I will work on developing empathy for my Albany Care neighbors...