Clara's Place boss speaks out after abrupt shutdown

CHICAGO (WLS) -- The man who has been overseeing a women's housing facility that was abruptly shut down last week spoke out about the closure.

Residents at Clara's Place in West Englewood said they had only hours to pack up and find a new place to live.

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Mothers and children who called Clara's Place home have been suddenly displaced after the longtime women's shelter was abruptly shut down.

McKinley Bell was responsible for operating Clara's Place and nearby shelter Clara's House after his mother suffered a severe stroke last year. Both buildings are now shut down. Bell said there are not enough donations to keep the places going.

Beds once occupied by women and children now are empty at Clara's House. The 30-year West Englewood shelter closed its doors in November. Just around the corner is Clara's Place, offering long-term housing for residents who transition out of Clara's House. It was abruptly shut down by the city last week for several code violations, including no heat, a busted boiler and leaks in gas lines.

"These places not funded by the state, city and federal government, all of the money that ran these locations came from donations and my mother's pocket," Bell said.

Bell's mother is Clara Kirk. She started and ran Clara's House and Place until she became ill last spring, leaving Bell the responsibility of operating both buildings plagued with long-term financial problems.

"I walked into a $40,000 gas bill," Bell said.

After the city shut Clara's Place down, former residents and Alderman Ray Lopez, who has a ward office in the same building, blamed Bell for neglecting the building.

"It's putting the legacy of Claire Kirk in jeopardy, as we have seen, as well as putting the lives of people in danger. We can't allow that in our buildings," Lopez said.

"We have a passion, we want to help people, but what extent to do go to help them," Bell said.

Bell said he doesn't have the money to keep Clara's House and Place going. Both fall under the umbrella of the nonprofit West Englewood United Organization. It's run by a board of directors, who Bell blames for doing little to help.

"I think the board dropped the ball. I think a lot was put on the shoulders of my mother," Bell said.

ABC7 reached out the board and has not received a response.

Bell is hoping to sell the building that houses Clara's Place. On Thursday, a housing
court judge appointed a receiver to winterize the building and give displaced residents money to relocate.

As for the shelter, Clara's House, Bell is hoping to reopen if with donations.
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