On April 20, Gwen Anderson, the new housing manager of Horner, discovers a nightmarish scene in the building’s basement that makes her vomit. She describes finding about two thousand appliances (some new) that have rusted from sitting in pools of water and are inhabited by roaches, fleas, dead and live cats and rodents, all of which have created a horrible, putrid odor. New kitchen cabinets are also rusted beyond use from lying in water, and are placed in the middle of human and animal excrements and dead animals.
The scene that Gwen Anderson discovers is violent not only in its attack to the senses, but also in the longstanding neglect it exposes, as no previous authority figure has cared to maintain the building and tangibly improve residents’ lives. In particular, the presence of usable appliances is incensing, given the low-quality living conditions Horner residents have to contend with on a daily basis.
Anderson discovers that these appliances have been in the basement for over fifteen years. Now, LaJoe understands that the horrible smell coming from one of her toilets is caused by all the dead animals in the basement, and that her kitchen sink is backed up because of the pools of water in the basement, as sewage has risen up through the pipes into LaJoe’s sink. Mostly, though, LaJoe is furious about the new appliances uselessly rotting away in the basement, while her family and so many others could have used them.
The fact that no one has ever taken the time to investigate the problems that LaJoe has in her apartment—and, perhaps, that she has lacked the means to contact the relevant authorities—reveals how absurd it is that she has had to deal with these problems for so long, whereas they had a relatively simple, straightforward cause that no one would have imagined.
This physical rotting mirrors, LaJoe feels, her general spirit about her life and the neighborhood. An uncovered sewer in the neighborhood has almost swallowed up a child, the local health center has recently declared bankruptcy, Hull House is considering putting an end to their first aid care at Horner, and the Boys Club’s recently repaired swimming pool is experiencing new problems.
LaJoe’s generalization about the basement shows that this new nightmarish scene is only one of the many catastrophic developments affecting the neighborhood. Although less vividly shocking, the lack of adequate health services is potentially more harmful to the neighborhood in the long run.
Dawn, too, who is a role model for LaJoe’s children, has been experiencing trouble. She still lives at Horner and has recently felt so depressed that she sometimes pretends she is not home. Neither Pharoah nor Lafeyette understands why Dawn—their family’s success story—has not yet moved out of Horner, but Dawn has put her name on a long list to receive public housing and has been struggling to find a job. At the same time, though, Dawn has managed to maintain a close, reliable family, as she and Demetrius have worked hard to take care of their children. One day, Pharoah goes to visit her with Porkchop and asks her about college. When he asks her why she still doesn’t have a job, she replies that she is trying.
Pharoah and Lafeyette attribute Dawn’s past success to her own talent and ability, so they are consequently confused as to why she can’t succeed now. The two boys fail to recognize the external factors (such as financial resources and job availability) that are currently affecting Dawn’s situation. In this case, the problem is not that Dawn is suddenly apathetic about getting out of Horner. Instead, such a step requires a mix of pure grit, hard work, and luck. However, her family unity has played an important role in keeping her from giving up, as it gives her the stability that the rest of her life lacks.