Free Study Guide for There Are No Children Here by Alex Kotlowitz

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Even though she was only four years old at the time, LaJoe still remembers when she and her family moved into the brand new Henry Horner Homes on October 15, 1956. They were the first family to occupy one of its sixty-five apartments. They were part of the publicly financed high-rise apartments to spring up all over the country in 1956. They were part of Congress’ loans and subsidies for post war housing, but they were very controversial. White politicians wanted neither poor nor black families in their communities, and they resisted these buildings. The politicians began making the purchase of land difficult, and when land was found in Chicago, it was right on the edge of the black ghettos. So what had become alternatives to decrepit living conditions now became anchors for the existing slums. Then, buildings were constructed on the cheap and the result was remindful of “giant filing cabinets with separate cubicles for each human household.”

Nonetheless, LaJoe and her siblings were bubbling over with excitement for the new home, and in the early years, the children of Horner thrived. There were Girl Scout programs, dances, and roller-skating in the basement, a new playground, a grass baseball diamond, a new Boys Club, and fish fries for the whole family. Now, LaJoe holds on to those memories, because so much has gone sour since. By the 1970’s, the CHA ran out of money to paint the apartments or clean the windows, but LaJoe still moved just down the hall from her parents’ apartment. The grass was still greener, there were light poles, and even little yellow flowers. She never knew until she lost it all that Horner just wasn’t “it.”

In 1987, Chicago Mayor Jane Byrne chose to move in to Cabrini Green, another aprt of the projects, to see what life was like there in the midst of so many shootings. LaJoe thought it was a gutsy thing to do. Six thousand people lived at Horner in 1987, and four thousand of them were children. Their parents refused to allow them to venture out at night. Now the residents could only hope that the politicians would do something about the problems there.

It is early July and once again, LaJoe and her five youngest children are huddling in the hallway while guns are fired outside. They are squatting there long after the sound ceases out of fear of a stray bullet. LaJoe finally must get up, and to clear her mind, to avoid thinking about what has happened, she begins to clean. However, even this is an exercise in futility, because there is so much wrong with their apartment: maintenance is at a bare minimum, eight people live in the apartment, there is often an overflow of garbage, roaches are everywhere, heating pipes are exposed, the bathroom tub faucet runs constantly, and the boiler creates outrageous heat in the winter. To add to the general clutter and mess, a horrible stench suggesting raw, spoiled meat periodically rises from the toilet. LaJoe believes it comes from the smell of dead fetuses. The previous tenants were rumored to have performed abortions there. Nonetheless, she does what she can to brighten up the place with pictures and knick-knacks.

Finally, LaJoe gives the okay to the children to get up and walk around. However, they’re forbidden to go outside. That’s what they all want even though there’s not much to do there. There are a few basketball hoops left over from thirty years before, and Lafeyette’s friend, James loves to play. He is a basketball fanatic who has managed to convince players at the Chicago Stadium to donate sneakers for his collections. However, Lafeyette doesn’t like to play there, because the kids who are around that area might make him join a gang. In fact, when some teens asked Lafeyette to stand security for them, LaJoe had actually intervened to send them away. She says she’ll die first before she’ll let them take one of her sons. Even James says that the only way to make it out of Horner is to make as few friends as possible. He says that if he has one wish, he’ll separate all the good from the bad and send them to another planet to battle it out, so no innocent people will get hurt. Lafeyette wishes to go to heaven, and Pharoah wishes for no gangbangers. By the end of the season, the police will record one person every three days being beaten, shot at, or stabbed at Horner, while they confiscate 22 guns and 330 grams of cocaine.


The poignancy of this chapter comes from the realization that when Horner was new, there was great hope and decent living conditions at last for the residents. It reinforces the despair that builds over the years as the conditions deteriorate and life there becomes a war zone based on gangs and drugs. In addition, the wishes the children declare show how sad life is when one wants everyone sent to another planet, one wants to go to heaven, and one wants the gangbangers gone. Their wishes reflect the projects - sour and to some degree, hopeless.

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