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Laverne Johnson, Wilson Avenue and Sheridan Road | House call

The longtime resident makes herself at home at Friendly Towers, a church-run single room occupancy for low-income seniors.

 (Peter Hoffman)
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Peter Hoffman
 (Photograph: Peter Hoffman)
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Photograph: Peter Hoffman

Laverne Johnson, 61, Wilson Avenue and Sheridan Road

“It’s not for everyone,” says Johnson, a community activist and former health-care worker, of her cozy digs at Friendly Towers. “If you’re coming here and you think you’re going to booze it up, you’re gonna feel restricted, but if you’re religious or here to get sober it’s the perfect place.” The SRO (single room occupancy) for low-income seniors is run by Jesus People USA, a communelike Christian community whose members live on the lower floors. Most of the seniors receive rent assistance from the Chicago Low-Income Housing Trust Fund, and JPUSA staffers serve them meals, provide casework services and organize activities.

Her small but cheerful studio on the ninth floor offers sweeping northwest views, while the lime-green walls are enlivened by a drawing of Nina Simone by her neighbor, artist-photographer Fred Burkhart.

After living in Garfield Park as a teenager, Johnson was drawn to hippie culture in the late ’60s as a way to escape gangs and rebel. “I had a big Afro and wore granny dresses, or miniskirts with go-go boots,” she says. She hung out at friends’ gigs at North Side rock clubs such as Edgewater’s erstwhile Daisy Patch. She finally moved to the neighborhood 27 years ago.

In recent years, she’s seen Uptown change radically. “During the ’60s they said people from the suburbs would move in and take over, and now it’s happening,” she says. But while street crime is still a problem, she likes Uptown’s economic mix. “It teaches the ones who have more compassion for the ones who have little or nothing.”

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