Carroll Park: Single-Female Households Are Common Despite Challenges

The population on Wannamaker Street in Carroll Park is roughly 25 percent single-female-headed households.

The 1400 block of Wanamaker Street in Carroll Park is described by its residents as being peaceful.

However, as in many other places in the city, times are not easy in this neighborhood.

There are at least five single mothers and five abandoned homes on the block. Rather than depending on their neighbors during these hard times, the people of Wanamaker Street are keeping to themselves and not asking for much-needed help.

Gwendolyn Poles is one of the single mothers on the block who is experiencing hard times. Poles, now in her early 50s, is currently living in an abandoned home on the street.

“When I moved in here, I came in the back door,” Poles said.” The boys were using it as a drug house. So if they can use it for a drug house, I can use it for living. As soon as I came in here, it was no more drug house.”

After Poles completed her own basic repairs to the house — such as putting in a new floor to replace the warped wooden boards and painting the stairs — her home no longer looks abandoned.

“No sense in anybody being homeless with all these abandoned houses out here,” Poles said. “I’m not saying you can live somewhere for free, but you can have shelter.”

Although there are not many social programs in the area, some single women said they believe the city does enough to support them.

When asked if Poles would turn to her neighbors for help, however, she said no.

Although neighbors tend to keep to themselves now, they see the difference from when they were young in the neighborhood.

Brenda Davis, Poles’ sister who also lives on the block, has seen the drastic changes the neighborhood has made over the years. The women grew up one block over on Hobart Street with their parents.

“Living on this block, we were like family,” Davis said. “We watched over each other’s children. You didn’t need daycare, you know, to help each other out. It’s different, though, now. The generation moving in here now, it’s different.”

Tamera Tubbs, 20, is a single mother of two who recently moved to the end of the block.

“When I was growing up, my mom was strict,” Tubbs said. “Teenagers now, they got it made. When I was growing up, it was different. ”

There are a few reasons why the family effect has left the block.

Francine White said that her family and friends would be able to support her if she had financial trouble.

Poles explained that some of the parental help or advice is just not wanted.

“You have to watch what you say to some of these girls’ kids. You’re in for a cursing out. Even the kids will curse you out. But if kids hear this all day long, of course they will. … Kids are [like] sponges.”

Francine White also recently moved on to the block. Upon moving to the neighborhood, she read the street was nice, but crime is still present, causing mothers to keep to themselves.

“I get kind of afraid or scared; I mean, it can happen at any time,” White said.

With such conditions, it is no wonder these women are turning to people other than their neighbors for help.

Community programs, such as a parenting class White attends, can offer some support. Many programs and organizations, however, are having their own problems staying funded.

“I went to the Carroll Park (Community) Council for help, but nobody could help me,” Poles said.

Davis agreed. “There are just certain things they couldn’t help with,” she said. “They didn’t have the means, so how could they help you?”

Like Poles and Davis, many go to their family for help. Those family members are often also from the neighborhood.

“My goddaughter lives right in front of me,” White said, “and I used to get a little help from my mom, but when she died, I got no help. I didn’t give up. I just keep doing what I have to do.”

When times get worse, Poles said she turns to God.

“There are some days that I don’t have the finances to eat out,” Poles said as she tapped on her Bible. “I eat the word. That fills me.”

Poles and Davis are both faithful members of Calvin Presbyterian Church, located at 60th and Master streets.

The church is working to launch programs that will put neighbors of Carroll Park to work as well as support them during these difficult times. Both Poles and White are volunteers at these programs.

Despite hard times, the neighbors on the block still find hope on Wanamaker Street.

“I’ve been here 30 years, so hey, you know I had to rub off on it. I love it,” Davis said.

For Poles, the goal is more basic survival.

“No, Lord, I don’t want (to) be a hobo on Hobart Street,” Poles prayed. “Yes, Lord, I want to make it on Wanamaker Street. I wanna make it on Wanamaker Street.”

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