Stories about life in Liddonfield housing project and its impact on the Northeast Philadelphia neighborhood of Upper Holmesburg. These true stories reveal how government policy affected the lives of real people, from the project residents to area homeowners during the 5 decades of Liddonfield’s existence. Stories and articles are written by a former resident of the project.

FIGHT THE STIGMA!

FIGHT THE STIGMA!
Rosemary Reeves, Blogger, standing on Philadelphia Skyline

Jan 3, 2011

Public Housing Auld Lang Syne

by Rosemary Reeves 

The year 2010 held more significance for me than any year before it.  My life had just been saved by a team of cancer specialists who fought diligently to heal me.  After undergoing a grueling series of treatments to eradicate the malignant tumor, I was cured.  Having beaten cancer and been given a second chance at living, I found out the hard way that every moment counts. 
During my recuperation, I read an article in The Philadelphia Tribune about Liddonfield Housing Project’s planned demolition under the HOPE VI Program.  As a former resident of Liddonfield, this was shocking news.  I dug up some old photos of me and family members in the housing project.  Memories came flooding back.  I realized that Liddonfield had a history that was about to be lost, hundreds of families with stories never told.  It was then I got the idea to create a blog as a tribute to them and Liddonfield. 
One year ago in January of 2010, the blog became a reality when I uploaded the old photos of my family in the housing project and wrote a few short anecdotes of our time spent there.  Then, with my body weak from months of chemo and wearing a wig to hide my hair loss, I turned the web cam on myself and made the first video for PublicHousingStories.com. 
In it, I talked about my childhood experience with social class prejudice when my family left Liddonfield. The nearby lower middle-class neighborhood we moved to had a long history of resentment toward the public housing residents.  We found ourselves unprepared for the hostile reception of a neighborhood that feared our arrival was the first sign of a migration of housing project residents into their community.  As I spoke in front of the web cam, I wondered if anyone would hear my words or see the images I attempted to share with strangers over the computer.
Afterwards, I felt satisfied that I had done my small part to enlighten others about public housing stigma.  That was to be the end of the endeavor.  But then the responses came.  Current and former Liddonfield residents commented on the video and emailed me.  There were dozens of them, at first.  Then more responded, all offering encouragement, reaching out of the vastness of the Internet to say they understood what it’s like to carry the stigma imposed by a society that stereotypes and labels us.
I began to dream that maybe I could be a healer, too.  Maybe I could make the stereotypes and labels lose their power over this Philadelphia neighborhood that for years has been divided by class.  Maybe even change more than one neighborhood.
In February, I teamed up with Arthur Zaoutsos to make more videos using less than the best equipment, meaning whatever was on sale at computer stores.  The blog got off to a slow start as I struggled to put my life back together.  I was grateful to be alive, but I was not the same.  The cure had ravaged my body, though I hid it well with the wig and makeup.  I started watching comedy shows to lift my spirits as I re-invented myself, becoming strong again through physical therapy and laughter.  My hair began to grow back and I ditched the wig.
With new resolve, I got in front of the web cam again and made a video called Housing Project Stories Wanted.  Upon completion, Arthur and I noticed in one scene a large white fan seemed to mysteriously appear from nowhere.  I had started talking into the web cam, got hot, shut it off while I brought the fan over then resumed talking for the video, not realizing the fan was so close, it was now in the scene. 
Arthur asked if we should edit or re-do the shot.  I decided to leave the blooper in for authenticity and also because the little mistake added a touch of humor.  It inspired us to create humorous videos for the site. I wanted people to know that public housing could be funny.  
On October 4, PublicHousingStories.com featured Nick Cataldi, D.J. for local radio station WBCB 1490 AM.  Nick wrote how basketball helped fatherless boys in the project, in his narrative piece entitled, My Liddonfield Housing Project Story.   
Two weeks later, a comedy video was made introducing Housing Project Kitty, the site’s mascot. 
Serious commentary based on my real experiences as a former public housing resident turned middle-class was added, such as The Psychiatry of Public Housing and Will HOPE VI Children Have Confused Identity?
Autobiographical pieces about Liddonfield, including A Fight in the Projects and Housing Project Family illustrated what it was like to be a child within an impoverished family living in the projects. 
Meanwhile, individuals and organizations involved in public housing began to take notice.  I was contacted by a representative of the Council of Large Public Housing Authorities asking for my opinion on their latest publication.
Disgraced former Executive Director of the Philadelphia Housing Authority, Carl Greene, brought scandal upon PHA, inspiring the December 20, 2010 article, Songs That Remind Me of PHA’s Carl Greene.
Aaron Proctor, writer for the Examiner.com, Libertarian and guest commentator on Fox News, interviewed me in regard to local public housing politics in his December 29, 2010 article, Inside the PHA:  A Talk With Rosemary Reeves proving that a liberal and a conservative can call a truce, at least long enough to discuss the PHA scandal.
In the past year, thousands of viewers from all over the U.S. and abroad have visited PublicHousingStories.com. I am also celebrating excellent health.
Liddonfield was demolished in 2010 under the HOPE VI Program.  A mixed-income neighborhood will stand where the old units fell.  But she is not gone.  She will be re-built into something new.  So, raise your glass and drink a toast to Liddonfield’s bygone era and wish her luck in the future, for Auld Lang Syne. 

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