Law and Order, Local, Park Forest

Have You Noticed that House Down the Street?

Eight children were found living in squalor alone in this home when police arrived. (Photo: Gary Kopycinski)
Eight children were found living in squalor alone in this home when police arrived. (Photo: Gary Kopycinski)

Park Forest, IL-(ENEWSPF)- Park Forest residents were shocked a few weeks ago to read about a house on Huron Street discovered in deplorable condition with eight children alone inside. The inside of the house was covered with garbage, discarded food, and dog feces. Bugs, flies, and cockroaches were on the walls throughout the house. There was no running water, and the toilet overflowed with feces and urine. The outside of the house had significant garbage around it. A 34-year-old woman was arrested and charged with endangering the life or health of a child. The house was quickly condemned by the village.

What puzzled many was how such a situation could have existed without someone notifying the authorities, especially given the presence of children in the house. Why did anyone not take the initiative to contact the police, the village, or Children and Family Services (DCFS) to investigate what was happening?

One possible answer is that they did not know the appropriate group to contact or when that contact should be made. Another possibility is that people would just prefer not to get involved.

police chief in uniform against a blue background
Park Forest Police Chief Paul Winfrey (VOPF photo)

According to Park Forest Police Chief Paul Winfrey, the key to preventing a repeat of the situation on Huron Street is for residents to follow their instincts.  If something does not feel right, report the situation to the police or village. It is far better to make a report that turns out to be inconsequential, than to not report and put the neighborhood, and possibly lives, at risk.

If a property has trash around it or structural issues, but there is no concern that the house is being occupied illegally or that the welfare of those living there is in danger, Winfrey suggests calling the Park Forest Building Department at 708-503-7703 to report the situation. These reports can be made anonymously.

The Building Department will send an inspector to the property to investigate the report and, depending on what is discovered, contact the police. Winfrey noted that there is a close working relationship between the departments, and they share information as needed.

If the situation is more serious and there is a possibility that criminal activity is involved or the situation may lead to health or safety issues, Winfrey encourages residents to contact the police. Unless there is an immediate threat, calls can be made to the non-emergency number, 708-748-4700. The call can be made anonymously, but the police prefer if a name is provided in case additional details are later needed.

Winfrey noted that the number of vacant houses in the village has dropped significantly over the past two years as the economy has improved, but reports of people breaking into these properties, changing the locks, and taking up residence are still received by the department. He suggests that any time a resident notices a property thought to be vacant suddenly having people going in and out, a call should be made to the police.

The police will send an officer to the house to investigate. In some cases, the house may have recently been sold and the unknown people are the new owners or contractors hired by the owners. Winfrey urges residents to call if they have any concerns as it is much better to investigate the situation than have a serious incident develop later.

If children are involved, the police will make the appropriate contact with DCFS or other agencies to ensure they are properly cared for. Winfrey said children seen at a property on days when they should be in school is a possible indicator that there could be a situation in need of attention. While it might be a case of the children being home-schooled, it is better to report the concern than turn a blind eye.

Winfrey noted that, in general, Park Forest residents are very good about keeping an eye on their neighborhood and reporting situations that appear suspect. However, it is incumbent upon every resident to be alert to potentially dangerous situations to avoid a reoccurrence of a situation similar to what was discovered on Huron Street.