DNAinfo.com Chicago: ‘Where We Supposed To Go?’: Uptown Homeless Set To Lose Their Roof—Again

 Bobby Williams in front of his tent underneath the Wilson viaduct.

Bobby Williams in front of his tent underneath the Wilson viaduct.

June 14, 2017
By Josh McGhee

Last September, Bobby Williams grabbed all the possessions he could, packed them into a grocery cart and trekked from a tent encampment near the Stewart School building to the Wilson Avenue viaduct.

Residents of the encampment were warned about the eviction on a Friday, but few of them had developed much of a plan by the time city workers erected a fence around the outskirts of the shuttered school building at 4525 N. Kenmore Ave. the following Monday morning.

“I left a lot of stuff back there…. I didn’t want to make two or three trips because I got bad legs,” Williams said. “[I left] a lot of personal things. I had to because they only gave us a certain amount of time to get out of there. And they were going to close it up.”

The ouster sent more than a dozen people living near the shuttered school scrambling for a temporary roof as winter approached. Now, those who made the move last year are finding themselves in a similar situation.

Williams has made the Wilson viaduct his home, but fears he and the other residents will soon be pushed out yet again. In June, the City of Chicago began soliciting bids, which are due July 6, for the rehabilitation of the Wilson Avenue and Lawrence Avenue viaducts.

On Wednesday, residents from the viaducts set up tents outside of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office at City Hall, 121 N. LaSalle St., and held a press conference asking Emanuel and DFSS to help them find actual housing before the viaduct overhaul begins.

“The question is: where we supposed to go?” asked Louis Jones, who is also living beneath the viaduct. “We appealed to them. We have been appealing to them to work with us on a solution, but were denied yet again. We have no problem with the viaducts being fixed, but where are we supposed to go? There is nowhere to go. We have no options.”

Included in the plans for the project are six-foot wide bike lanes, which reduce the width of the sidewalks, and security fences, according to the Sun-Times.

The city is planning to “capitalize on this opportunity,” said Jones.

“We believe all people should have better housing than the viaduct, but when we have no other options available we have no choice,” Jones said. “A space where you feel safe, where you have access [to] food [and] healthcare, that makes a big difference between life and death especially when you’re out there. We need the city to understand they are causing displacement of a lot of people like myself.”

Construction is expected to start in August or September. Once construction begins it should take 6 to 8 months to complete, said Chicago Department of Transportation spokeswoman Susan Hofer.

DFSS has been in communication with the viaduct residents about the project and once details are finalized, “the City will provide the community with a 30 day notice of the construction timeline,” the department said in a statement.

“The Homeless Outreach and Prevention team will also work with those affected to ensure they are safe and know all of their options for services. This will include working with partner agencies to provide resources for food, shelter and other needs,” the statement said.

June 14 media advisory: Homeless encampment residents to hold press conference outside mayor’s office to demand housing in advance of viaduct construction

Residents also demand that the design of the re-constructed viaducts does not intentionally exclude homeless individuals

WHAT: Press conference convened by homeless encampment residents of the viaducts at Lake Shore Drive at Wilson and Lawrence Avenues. Residents are responding to the Request for Proposals (RFP) that the city of Chicago recently released seeking to identify construction companies to perform the work on the viaducts later this summer.

Residents are calling on Mayor Emanuel to provide housing solutions given that the city will be evicting them from their homes to make way for viaduct construction. They are also demanding that the design of the viaducts not intentionally exclude homeless people. The RFP calls for 6-foot bike lanes and security fences.

WHERE: City Hall – 5th floor (121 N. LaSalle)

WHEN: Wednesday, June 14 – 11 a.m.

WHO: Homeless residents of the Wilson and Lawrence viaducts and supporting community members


Tents assembled outside of the Mayor’s office

Homeless residents delivering a letter including their demands to the Mayor’s office

Religious leaders wearing identifiable clothing


(Uptown) Tent City Voices Heard is an Uptown, Lake Shore Drive tent encampment residents’ association that seeks to win the recognition of their rights (including their right to housing and thus to the opportunity to advance their lives), to find housing solutions for its members and, thereby, to help win those rights for all homeless people. We are separate and distinct from the advocacy group, Uptown Tent City Organizers.

For more information, contact Associate Policy Director Mary Tarullo


Chicago Sun-Times, Mark Brown: Viaduct work needed on North Side, but where will homeless go?

Published June 6, 2017

By Mark Brown, columnist

Harassment sweeps couldn’t permanently chase homeless people out from under the Lake Shore Drive viaducts at Lawrence and Wilson avenues.

Efforts to find housing for them resulted in other homeless individuals moving in to take their place on the sidewalk.

Now the city is looking to a road construction project to accomplish what it otherwise has been unable to do: Oust the homeless from these two highly visible North Side locations.

Contracts to rehab decaying bridges over Lawrence and Wilson were advertised for bid Friday.

Work is tentatively scheduled to begin in late August or early September.

The homeless people have been told they must move before the work starts. The question, as always, is where will they go?

“We’re trying to get them to house the people instead of just tossing them out,” said Mark Saulys, who currently lives in a tent under the Wilson viaduct and has helped try to organize his fellow tent dwellers.

So far, the city hasn’t committed to giving priority to the viaduct residents over other homeless individuals who have requested housing.

The homeless people at Lawrence and Wilson argue they should be moved to the top of the city’s triage list for affordable housing because they are in effect being evicted.

Ald. James Cappleman (46th), who has had a strained relationship with homeless advocates over the years, said he agrees.

“We should provide housing to them first,” Cappleman said. “I believe they deserve top priority. This is an unusual situation.”

In addition to moving out the homeless, plans for the project call for the installation of six-foot bike lanes cutting into the wide sidewalks that have made it possible for the homeless to pitch tents beneath the viaducts and still allow pedestrians to pass. New security fences also are planned.

In other words, the new design appears to intentionally preclude the homeless encampments from returning.

City officials did not address that issue in a statement Monday promising to give the viaduct residents 30 days notice before they must move.

“The Homeless Outreach and Prevention (HOP) team will also work with those affected to ensure they are safe and know all of their options for services. This will include working with partner agencies to provide resources for food, shelter and other needs,” the statement said.

That sounds like the basic approach the city uses every time it clears out a homeless encampment, which often boils down to little more than offering them a ride to Pacific Garden Mission.

Homeless encampments under the Lake Shore Drive viaducts date back many years, although the tents are a more recent addition.

The encampments have sparked considerable debate in Uptown between nearby residents who complain the encampments make it unsafe to reach the lakefront, and others who argue they aren’t hurting anyone and should be left alone. I’m in the latter camp.

As I’ve explained in the past, the location is attractive to homeless people because it is relatively safe, nearby other homeless services in the Uptown neighborhood and a magnet for Good Samaritans dropping off food and clothing.

A spokesman for the Chicago Department of Transportation said all lanes of Lake Shore Drive will remain open during what is planned to be a five-month project. Lanes on Lawrence and Wilson will be reduced beneath the viaducts during the project.

The American Road & Transportation Builders Association placed the two viaducts on its top 10 list of most traveled structurally deficient bridges in Illinois.

Note: The ranking is by most traveled, not most dangerous.

But the homeless people don’t question the need for the construction work, said Louis Jones, 50, who has been living beneath the Wilson viaduct for more than a year.

The crumbling concrete is self-evident beneath the structures, which were built in 1933.

Still, the homeless don’t believe the project should serve as a convenient pretext to get rid of them.

“A lot of people don’t have nowhere to go,” Jones said.

And moving them around doesn’t change that.

Louis Jones, who lives in a tent beneath Lake Shore Drive at Wilson Avenue, is among 45 homeless people who will be displaced by construction projects to rehab viaducts over Wilson and Lawrence. | Mark Brown/Sun-Times

Chicago Tribune: Crowded houses – program seeks to aid homeless families forced to live with family, friends

Published June 2, 2017
By Tony Briscoe, Chicago Tribune reporter

Pandemonium has been the norm for 17-year-old Sonitra Mitchell in the two years since her family lost their north suburban apartment and moved in with more than a dozen relatives living at her grandmother’s Far South Side two-flat.

Each morning, before the sun rises, the high school junior is roused by a flurry of footsteps and flickering lights before she gets up and jockeys for position outside the bathroom. After a five-minute shower, enforced by a timer, she gets dressed and hustles to catch a city bus from West Pullman to Harlan Community Academy, about 4 miles away.

After class, she takes her time before heading back into the fray of the crowded household.

LINK TO VIEW VIDEO: In collaboration with the nonprofit Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, a new city program looks to help families forced to live with others. (Alyssa Pointer and Erin Hooley / Chicago Tribune)

“I didn’t like coming home,” Sonitra said. “I would stay at school as long as possible to do anything I could. I would sit at school and do homework, talk to friends. … But every time I woke up I was like, ‘I have to start this day over and over, again.'”

Sprawling homeless encampments under viaducts and families vying for beds at local shelters are the most visible examples of housing instability. But there are thousands more who have seen their lives upended by economic hardship, forcing them to move in with friends or family.

For the first time, people like Sonitra — who fall into a category known as “doubled up” — are being included in an initiative to help the homeless. The Chicago Department of Family and Support Servicesin April announced it will be providing permanent housing for 100 homeless and at-risk families with children who live in the high-crime neighborhoods of Austin, Humboldt Park, West Englewood and Englewood.

Created in collaboration with nonprofit Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, the pilot program seeks to provide housing stability for students. The program will be paid for through a city tax on the home-sharing industry, which includes companies like Airbnb.

In implementing the city tax, Chicago joins a handful of municipalities across the country that have created a sustainable stream of funds dedicated to assisting homeless families instead of relying on unpredictable state and federal money. In March, Los Angeles County residents voted to increase the sales tax a quarter-percent to raise an estimated $3.5 billion over a decade in an effort to house 45,000 of the county’s 47,000 homeless people.

Crain’s Chicago Business, Letter to the Editor: Dear Springfield, shame, shame, shame

Published June 1, 2017

Crowds of Illinois residents just traveled to Springfield asking our state government to do its job. It’s shameful that elected officials have left the state of Illinois without an operating budget for two years. It isn’t just a crisis—it’s a catastrophe. Businesses are laying off workers and closing because their contracts with the state have not been fulfilled. Ambitious students are dropping out of college because the tuition assistance they earned is being withheld.

“The private sector” can’t save us. All the foundations together do not have enough money to keep this ship afloat. Foundations provide over $3 billion in grants each year. While that is a lot of funding, it’s only one-tenth of an annual state budget—when we had one.

Solutions abound, if one has the guts to put what’s right for the entire state ahead of what’s politically expedient. Lawmakers, please listen to the residents who marched across the state to ask you to do your job. If you can hear them above the sound of ideologies clashing.

Executive director
Conant Family Foundation

Executive director
Chicago Coalition for the Homeless

Record-sealing bill HB2373 goes to the governor

Updated May 30, 2017

Chicago Coalition for the Homeless (CCH) advocates reentry measures that would limit the barrier to jobs, housing and higher education that are triggered by a criminal background check.

A bill to expand record-sealing for most felonies, House Bill 2373, is being sent to the governor for consideration after passing the Illinois Senate with bi-partisan support (36-19) on May 30.

State Rep. Camille Lilly and State Sen. Don Harmon (both D-Oak Park) sponsor the measure. It passed the Illinois House, 80-34, on April 27.

Currently, only nine felonies are eligible for sealing three years after sentencing. The sealing exception would be convictions related to domestic violence, sex crimes, animal abuse, or driving under the influence.

HB 2373 would offer relief to people in reentry who face years of discrimination because of an old record.

FACT SHEET for House Bill 2373

The Reentry Project at CCH advocates with the Restoring Rights and Opportunities Coalition of Illinois (RROCI). The coalition was organized in 2015 by CCH, Cabrini Green Legal Aid, Community Renewal Society, and Heartland Alliance. RROCI advocates policies that remove barriers for ex-offenders in reentry, including lifetime employment bans.

RROCI worked this spring with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on a second bill: We’re advocating for legislation that would prohibit colleges and universities from asking about or considering a person’s criminal record to decide admissions.

Prepping slips to talk to legislators for HB2373 (Photo by Rachel Ramirez)

House Bill 3142 would provide opportunities for ex-offenders to apply for and be admitted for higher education, without fear of facing discrimination and barriers. The bill is now being considered in the Senate, after passing out of the House, 65-49, on April 5. State Rep. Barbara Wheeler (R-Crystal Lake) sponsors the measure.

FACT SHEET for House Bill 3142

During 2016, RROCI successfully advocated for four jobs bills that boost employment opportunities for returning citizens at schools, park districts, and healthcare facilities.

After the job bills were signed last summer, RROCI surveyed 350 men and women with records, asking them to identify their biggest challenges. An overwhelming majority agreed that background checks prove a never-ending barrier when trying to rebuild their lives, spurring the coalition to propose HB2373.

CCH advocates for reentry measures at the local and state level with its Reentry Project committee. The group is comprised of ex-offenders, service providers, advocates, and academics. The reentry staff includes Senior Organizer Rachel Ramirez, Policy Director Julie Dworkin, and myself.

– Jonathan Holmes, Policy Specialist

Continue reading Record-sealing bill HB2373 goes to the governor

Announcing our 2017 college scholarship winners, awards presented June 22

Chicago Coalition for the Homeless and its Law Project will present renewable $2,500 college scholarships to four students who succeeded in high school while coping with homelessness. Funded by private donors and grants, CCH has awarded more than $270,000 to 55 students since 2004.

Scholarship winners Mayra Fajardo, Niani Scott, Prince Washington, and Avery Williams will be presented at a public awards event on Thursday, June 22.

“We are inspired by these remarkable students,” said Law Project Director Patricia Nix-Hodes. “Despite unstable housing and other barriers, they have demonstrated a commitment to their education. We look forward to seeing what these leaders accomplish in their college years and beyond.”

Our program’s newest college graduate, Gesenia Viviescas, will be featured speaker at an awards event hosted by Loyola University Chicago School of Law, 25 E. Pearson Street. A 6 p.m. reception precedes the one-hour program, which begins at 6:30 p.m. in the 10th floor ceremonial courtroom.

Gesenia Viviescas at our 2016 Scholarship Awards Ceremony

Gesenia earned a bachelor’s degree in religious studies from DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind. Having studied in China for a term during college, Gesenia won a prestigious Fulbright award to teach English in Taiwan next school year. She plans to later earn a master’s international studies, with plans to enter the diplomatic service. A Schurz High School grad, Gesenia served as a DePauw Presidential Ambassador, president of her sorority, and participated in DePauw student government.

To date, 14 scholarship recipients have graduated with bachelor’s degrees, 39% of the 36 students eligible to do so to date. This compares well per a February 2015 study that showed just 9% of students from the lowest income bracket ($34,160 or lower) had earned a bachelor’s by age 24 (University of Pennsylvania and Pell Institute for the Study of Opportunity in Higher Education). Three additional CCH scholarship students have earned associate or nursing degrees.Supporters of the scholarship program, the family, friends and teachers of our students, and program graduates are invited to attend the public, free-of-charge event.

Also honored will be 15 rising sophomores, juniors and seniors, earlier scholarship winners who will receive renewal awards of $2,500. They attend the Art Institute of Chicago, Blackburn and Columbia colleges, DePaul, North Park and Western Illinois universities, University of Illinois campuses in Chicago and Champaign, and the historically black colleges and universities of Benedict, Howard, and Tougaloo.

The Law Project launched the program to encourage and showcase homeless youth with whom it works – in 2016, 87% of its 404 legal aid clients were homeless students or youth. CCH scholarships help graduating seniors who have experienced homelessness, some of them for most of their lives. Long focused on helping Chicago Public Schools students, suburban students also have been eligible since 2015.

Eighteen high school seniors applied by the April 14 deadline. The 2017 winners are:

Mayra Fajardo, Chicago – University of Illinois-Chicago: Following her parents’ return to Ecuador, Mayra has been an unaccompanied youth for two years, living with different friends’ families. With a 3.5 GPA at Lane Tech College Prep High School, Mayra plans to study psychology.

Niani Scott, Bolingbrook – University of Illinois-Champaign: With experience blogging and in poetry competitions, Niani has decided to study at U. of I.’s journalism school. When she was a high school freshman, Niani was represented by the CCH Law Project and a Chicago law firm after school officials questioned her family’s then-homeless status. She later finished high school in South Africa, after securing a scholarship to study abroad. Taking a gap year before college, Niani has worked at the law firm that once helped her, Burke, Warren, MacKay and Serritella.

Prince Washington, Chicago – University of Illinois-Springfield: Prince plans to study political science with a minor in educational leadership. He wants a career as a teacher, and one day to enter politics. Prince said he loved his years at Argo Community High School in suburban Summit – in part, because after homelessness forced him to move out of the district, school officials encouraged him to stay at Argo. That’s the option that state and federal law allows for homeless students, but Prince said school officials, including Supt. Kevin O’Mara, were always there for him and helped him succeed. Prince participated in Argo’s theater program, speech team, and the Principle’s Advisory Committee, and works in restaurants to support himself.

Avery Williams, Chicago – Savannah College of Art and Design: A talented artist, Avery plans to study animation and visual effects for movies and TV. Avery said she always loved how movies offer “a break from the problems and stresses in your life” – something her family experienced when living in shelters. She earned a 4.06 GPA and participated in three exhibitions during two years studying art at Gallery 37. Avery also works part-time for her mother’s catering service, Moxie Chicago.

The college scholarship program is funded by designated donations and by grants from the Osa Foundation, Susan W. Pearson Memorial, and the North Shore-based Student Alliance for Homeless Youth. All donations to the program are fully tax-deductible.

Thanks to a generous incentive created by the Osa Foundation, when students earn a cumulative grade point average of “B” or better, they receive a laptop. Fourteen students have earned this honor to date, with new winners to be announced in June.

The 8-member Scholarship Selection Committee includes Jennifer Salgado-Benz, a 2012 scholarship winner and Lake Forest College grad; Daihana Estrada, a 2010 scholarship winner and UIC grad; retired CCH Executive Director Ed Shurna; and Patricia Rivera, founding donor of the scholarship and retired director of the CPS homeless education program, now directing shelter-based tutoring for Chicago HOPES. Also, on the committee are CCH’s intake coordinator, Roberto Martinez; social worker Monica Mahan; and Claire Sloss and Anne Bowhay of the development/media staff.

– Anne Bowhay, Media

Legislators pass three statewide measures to assist homeless and at-risk youth

Updated May 26, 2017

By Niya Kelly, Policy Specialist

Three statewide measures to help homeless and at-risk youth facing barriers to safe housing and services passed final votes in the Illinois Senate by May 26.

A legislative package CCH calls Three Steps Home, the bills will be forwarded to Gov. Bruce Rauner for his signature or veto.

Also, a bill to provide no-fee birth records to homeless youth and adults (House Bill 3060) faces a final concurrence vote in the House before it heads to the governor.

No-fee birth records was proposed by the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless and advocated by State Rep. Will Guzzardi (D-Chicago) and Cook County Clerk David Orr’s office. Cook County adopted a similar countywide measure April 12.

CCH Law Project, public policy department and its statewide Youth Committee worked with other advocates to introduce legislation that offers homeless and unaccompanied youth the opportunity to further their education, housing options, and access to counseling. Because of young age and vulnerable circumstances, services to these youth are often been limited.

Continue reading Legislators pass three statewide measures to assist homeless and at-risk youth

Homeless leaders go to Gov. Rauner’s Winnetka mansion, demand budget now


Advisory to our Monday, May 15 action – covered by WGN-TV and ABC7

Who: 85 homeless youth & shelter residents

What: Meet at Gov. Bruce Rauner’s Winnetka house to demand he govern and pass a budget now

Also planned: Brief press conference prior, door-knocking with neighbors to ask their support

Where: Gov. Rauner’s house – Winnetka

On May 15, homeless youth and shelter residents from Chicago, Aurora, Waukegan, and Zion held a press conference outside Gov. Bruce Rauner’s upscale Winnetka mansion – the home of a governor who self-funded an ad campaign that claims Illinois is held together by duct tape.

“Last month, Gov. Rauner aired ads knocking legislators for passing solutions that keep Illinois held together with duct tape,” said Stefano Medansky, a homeless leader from Waukegan, “Truth is, he’s forcing all of us to hold our crumbling communities together with duct tape because he won’t govern and pass a budget.”

Our message: If respected Republican governors Jim Edgar and Jim Thompson could govern and pass state budgets with Speaker Mike Madigan, why can’t Gov. Rauner get the job done for the people of Illinois?

Working with the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, youth and shelter residents will present hundreds of signed postcards urging our “Duct Tape Governor” to stop holding up the budget process. Teams of youth and shelter residents will canvass the governor’s neighbors, asking them to sign a postcard or call the governor’s Springfield office to tell him to pass a state budget.

Illinois has not enacted a state budget for 23 months, jeopardizing vital social services, public universities and schools across the state. Ninety percent of homeless service providers have been forced to cut clients, services and staff. More than 1 million people have lost access to critical social services, per a study by the Responsible Budget Coalition.



CCH welcomes new associate director of policy, Mary Tarullo

May 11, 2017

CCH recently welcomed Mary Tarullo to the staff, serving as our new associate director of policy. 

Mary Tarullo

We asked Mary to introduce herself. 

I am thrilled to join CCH’s policy team to continue this renowned organization’s mission to end homelessness.

I got my start fighting for the human right to housing in 2004, as a caseworker for people living on the streets in Chicago. Working with people experiencing homelessness, learning about their stories and the obstacles they face, and being confronted with significant structural barriers as someone who was supposed to be able to house people in need — all motivated me to want to tackle the root causes of homelessness.

In 2005, after graduating from Grinnell College, I became a community organizer through the Americorps VISTA program in Boston, with the Mass Alliance of HUD Tenants. I organized Section 8 tenants to preserve their housing, which was at-risk and especially under pressure because of the real estate bubble of the pre-collapse 2000s.

I moved back home to Chicago (actually, I proudly hail from Berwyn) in 2007, when I started organizing with Lakeview Action Coalition (LAC).

While at LAC, I got to work on numerous campaigns to preserve and create affordable housing, including securing 57 units of affordable housing at the Children’s Memorial Hospital redevelopment site. It was the first affordable housing in Lincoln Park in 35 years. We won a $10 million fix to preserve at-risk HUD housing nationally, and organized numerous tenant associations to secure renewal of their Section 8 contracts.

In 2013 LAC merged with Organization of the North East, becoming ONE Northside. At ONE Northside, I staffed the Chicago for All Coalition, which led the effort to enact the city’s Single Room Occupancy (SRO) Preservation Ordinance. CCH was a key player in the coalition, and together, we passed the ordinance in November 2014. Since passage, the policy has preserved nearly 700 SRO units across seven buildings in gentrifying or gentrified communities.

I look forward to building on my 12+ years of experience by fighting for housing and running campaigns at CCH, focusing on citywide initiatives to guarantee the human right to housing for all.