Chicago Sun-Times, Mark Brown: Chicago takes low-key approach to remove homeless camp from Lower Wacker

A city official on Monday talks to a homeless man who lives in The Triangle about services that are available to him as the city slowly begins to move the encampment on Lower Wacker Drive. | Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

By Mark Brown, columnist

City workers moved deliberatively Monday morning to begin removing a homeless encampment from an area of Lower Wacker Drive known as The Triangle.

Unlike the police show of force that characterized last summer’s eviction of tent cities beneath two Lake Shore Drive viaducts in Uptown, Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration took a low-key approach to ousting the homeless group that occupies a spot just west of Michigan Avenue.

An 8 a.m. deadline for the homeless residents to move their belongings came and went with no effort to physically move them.

It was nearly 10 a.m. before city social workers arrived to begin offering the last dozen stragglers another opportunity to accept a bed in a shelter or detox unit. They found one woman who took them up on the chance to go to detox.

Only two police officers were on the scene, and they were staying mostly on the periphery. A Salvation Army truck served chili mac and Kool-Aid.

By late morning, however, a city contractor began drilling holes in the pavement to erect fence posts — the clearest sign about the city’s intentions to make the area off limits to homeless people.

Despite the din, many homeless people lay asleep on the ground.

Many packed their belongings and moved down the street to another area of Lower Wacker. Others came and took their place.

A contingent from the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless arrived early to stand watch to make sure nobody’s rights were violated but they didn’t have much to do.

The city has said it is closing the encampment for public safety reasons — both for the protection of the homeless people and for those who live and work in the area.

Advocates for the homeless say the city is just trying to move the homeless to a less visible location away from the busy roadway.

 

1999 Look Back: Chicago Tribune, ‘Lower Wacker to shut its gates on homeless, fences to be locked’

January 29, 1999

By Cindy Richards and Diane Struzzi

Three months after saying the fences it built along Lower Wacker Drive were not aimed at ridding the area of homeless people, the city has served notice that they will be evicted as of 6 p.m. Friday.

The fences that enclose the sidewalks and loading docks where the homeless sleep will be closed and locked for the first time Friday evening. From then on, the gates will be locked nightly from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m., Assistant Corporation Counsel Alan H. Neff told attorneys for the homeless in a recent letter.

City officials had maintained in late October that they were fencing in the parking areas along the south side of Lower Wacker, ostensibly at the request of building owners, to deal with the problem of illegally parked cars.

And since then, the fence gates have stood open and unlocked, with the homeless continuing to camp out on the sidewalks near heating grates.

Several homeless men who still live on Lower Wacker said city workers or police told them over the past couple of weeks that they would have to move by 6 p.m. Friday. The men said they assume anything they can’t carry with them will be discarded.

But Friday’s planned lockdown won’t proceed without protest.

The Chicago Coalition for the Homeless has invited Chicago icon and historian Studs Terkel to address a vigil at LaSalle Street and Lower Wacker Drive when the lockdown commences at 6 p.m. Friday.

Terkel said he will denounce the move to “evict people from a public space where they have been for years, where they disturbed nobody. What is happening to us as humans?”

Indeed, people have been living under Wacker Drive virtually since it opened in 1926. During the Great Depression, the street was home to thousands of jobless men who dubbed it “Hoover Hotel,” after President Herbert Hoover, whom they blamed for their plight.

Neither the building owners nor the city is taking responsibility for planning Friday’s coordinated lockdown, but if the plan moves the homeless elsewhere, the lockdown clearly will achieve the goals of both.

The city has been trying for years to rid Wacker Drive of its persistent homeless population. Their efforts have been thwarted by homeless advocates who called in the media or filed lawsuits to stop them.

Building owners, meanwhile, have continued to complain about the filth that homeless residents leave on their loading docks and the fear of tenants who have to pick their way past cardboard homes, empty liquor bottles and leering stares to get into the buildings.

With the fences, the city and the building owners appear to have hit on a solution that might work for both.

But homeless advocates had hoped for another answer.

“Instead of solving the problem, they’re moving people out. It’s just moving the furniture around,” said John Donahue, executive director of the coalition.

Donahue said his organization had hoped to ask building owners to contribute $80,000 to a fund to provide temporary housing for the 80 or so people who regularly sleep on Lower Wacker. Once they have housing, they could get other assistance like intensive mental-health or substance-abuse services and job training, Donahue said.

The proposal also suggested that the building owners hire 15 of the homeless–perhaps using them as gatekeepers or maintenance workers for the now-private spaces enclosed by the fences.

The more than 20 building owners paid sums ranging from $500 to $7,000 each to obtain city permits that grant them control over the fenced-in property.

Those permits were issued earlier this month, but the gates remained unlocked while building owners and the city negotiated the details of the new system, said Paul Colgan, a spokesman for the building owners’ association.

One of the street’s residents, Woodrow Wilson, who has lived there for a year and a half, said he plans to stay right where he is. But that may not be possible.

Armed with their “public way use permits,” the building owners can have their security forces remove trespassers, or they can call on the Chicago police to enforce their newly granted property rights.

Wilson said police told him any homeless people still on Lower Wacker Friday night would be hauled off to jail.

Wilson said workers with the city Department of Human Services told him that if he showed up at a West Side address, they would find him a room at the YMCA. But without an income, Wilson said he believes he’ll be sent to Haymarket House, a rehabilitation center–a place he doesn’t want to go. He was offered no other options, Wilson said.

“They’ll just have to take us to jail,” he said, resting in his bedroll Thursday morning.

Romell Smith, 36, who has lived on Lower Wacker for the last nine months, likely will move temporarily to his sister’s home in Elgin.

“They say they’re not doing it because we’re homeless, but because the cars are parked down here,” he said.

Meanwhile, lawyers for the Lower Wacker residents and the city are nearing a settlement on a lawsuit filed last year over a particularly aggressive sweep of the area by Streets and Sanitation workers in December 1997. Under the terms of a proposed settlement, the city would pay $45,000 to compensate residents for possessions lost during the sweep. The deal also was expected to set guidelines for future cleanups.

But the cleanup agreement could be moot after Friday. As building owners take control of the formerly public space, they also take responsibility for keeping it clean, relieving the city of any further responsibility.

Northwest Herald: City of Woodstock, police ban 17 people from Old Firehouse Assistance Center

Old Firehouse Assistance Center again at center of controversy

By Brittany Keeperman

The city of Woodstock and the Woodstock Police Department have banned at least 17 people from the Old Firehouse Assistance Center.

The Old Firehouse Assistance Center offers meals, haircuts, showers, medical care and social services to people experiencing homelessness. The site operates out of the city-owned Old Firehouse at 120 W. South St. near the Square and City Hall. The McHenry County Housing Authority operates the center.

The ban notices circulated in May after an email sent from Woodstock Deputy Police Chief Jeffrey Parsons to Mayor Brian Sager, City Manager Roscoe Stelford, Police Chief John Lieb and Deputy Chief Ray Lanz. The email was titled, “Top 20 individuals with negative police interaction” and was obtained by the Northwest Herald through a Freedom of Information Act request.

“Below and attached you will find a list of the top 20 individuals who are associated with OFAC, whom we have the most negative police interaction with,” Parsons wrote.

The list includes the reasons for the interaction, ranging from littering to attempted murder to “mental health” or “alcoholic.”

The ban issued to some of those people reads:

“The city of Woodstock has identified you as an individual with numerous violations of city ordinances and local laws, as well as many negative contacts with our law enforcement personnel. Effective immediately, the city has elected to ban you from obtaining services at the Old Firehouse Assistance Center.”

If a person who received the notice returns to the center, “the exterior area” of OFAC or “property surrounding City Hall,” the police department could charge them with criminal trespassing, according to the notice.

People still can receive services at the McHenry County Housing Authority, Thresholds, PADS through Pioneer Center, the Woodstock Alano Club and Family Health Partnership in Crystal Lake, according to the notice. Housing Authority officials said those options weren’t necessarily viable.

“It’s sort of a step back to where we were before the Firehouse existed,” McHenry County Housing Authority’s community services director Sue Rose said. “The services are scattered, and asking people who have no transportation, who may have mental health issues, who may be present at an agency while they are intoxicated … is in essence not allowing them to get the services they need.”

Sager said the intention is to avoid a repeat of last summer, when residents raised concerns about homeless people around town and illegal behavior such as public urination and drinking in public.

“PADS has closed for the season,” Sager said. “It was determined that we needed to take very solid action, very quickly to avoid the experiences and circumstances that happened last summer.”

People are able to appeal the ban, and city officials, OFAC staff and police officials will meet weekly to talk about the issue, Sager said.

“We will review that list and dialogue, whether the ban should be broader, whether individuals are appealing and should be considered for reversal or have made significant and constructive progress in their transition plans,” he said.

Rose said she understood the city’s position, but the conflict might make matters worse.

“Now they have no place to eat, no place to shower and no place to get the social services they need to try and address these behaviors,” she said. “We don’t support the ban.”

The city recently renewed its lease with the Old Firehouse Assistance Center. An ordinance authorizing the lease agreement cites the city’s desire to control who has access to the site, according to city documents.

Lawrence Wagner, senior attorney with the advocacy group Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, said that Woodstock officials likely have the right to dictate who uses the center because it owns the property. But that doesn’t mean this is the proper approach, he said.

“My initial thought is this is more of the same,” he said. “I understand that any city wants to deal with the homeless population, but they always seem to approach it in the wrong way.

“Instead of trying to provide permanent housing, they push [the homeless] to the side – mainly because they don’t want them to be visible to people in the community who may complain about their presence.”

Wagner said he never has seen another city bar people from social service centers. The coalition is in the process of investigating the way the city treats its homeless population, he said.

The coalition is particularly interested in several ordinances that the city enacted last year related to how long people can stay in public parks and the Square.

“In my opinion, they are clearly designed to keep the homeless out of public spaces,” he said. “We believe right now the ordinances violate the Bill of Rights for the homeless. They seem neutral on the face, but intent and enforcement will violate homeless rights.”

Chicago Tribune: Advocates criticize plan to fence off Lower Wacker homeless encampment

By Tony Briscoe

The city plans to fence off a homeless encampment along Lower Wacker Drive, a move it says is intended to reduce crime, but one that homeless advocates say raises legal questions.

The Chicago Department of Transportation posted notices around a small barricaded area near Wabash Avenue and East Lower Wacker Drive, known as “the Triangle,” informing members of the homeless contingent who live there to gather their belonging and leave by Monday. Though the bulletins says the site will be “closed for construction” until June 22, the city will be erecting a fence around the area, which will remain in place indefinitely, according to CDOT.

The Transportation Department said it was instructed by the Chicago Police Department to fence off the area for public safety reasons. Chicago police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi confirmed the move was undertaken by multiple agencies in response to a wide range of criminal activities.

“For the last several months, CPD has been working with city partners to address criminal incidents taking place on Lower Wacker including, narcotics dealing, robberies, street racing and prostitution,” Guglielmi said in a statement.

Guglielmi didn’t specifically mention gun violence, but arguably the most high-profile crime this year — the fatal shooting of Chicago police Cmdr. Paul Bauer — may have had ties to Lower Wacker. On Feb. 13, officers approached a man on Lower Wacker about a recent shooting and drug sales, but he ran off.

Bauer overheard a radio dispatch about the chase and spotted a suspect matching the description near the Thompson Center. Bauer was fatally shot while trying to pursue the man.

Shomari Legghette, a 44-year-old four-time felon, was charged with first-degree murder, armed violence, and weapons and drug offenses. He has pleaded not guilty.

This year, Chicago police have been called to Lower Wacker for at least three dozen crimes, including assault involving a handgun April 10 and an armed robbery with a firearm May 26, according to public records.

At a news conference held near the encampment Thursday, members of the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, a nonprofit that has represented homeless people living on Lower Wacker, objected to the decision to vacate the area and called on Mayor Rahm Emanuel and other agencies to provide housing to those living on the street rather than simply displacing them.

Diane O’Connell, staff attorney for the coalition, said the city hasn’t mentioned criminal activity as the impetus to block access to the Triangle, but she said it’s not fair to generalize the entire encampment as criminals.

“There’s absolutely a legal argument that if the city’s whole purpose is to discriminate against people based on their homelessness that is a violation of the Illinois Bill of Rights for the Homeless Act,” O’Connell said.

“Certainly, there is criminal activity all over the city,” O’Connell added. “But if you generalize that activity and say it is the fault of one group, and then you take an adverse action that hurts that group, that’s the definition of discrimination — that’s a stereotype.”

After the notice was posted, many people who live in the Triangle had already moved. Charles Hunter, 34, who moved a few of his bags to a new location, was among those still needing to do more packing .

Hunter, who lived in the Pullman neighborhood, said he started sleeping on Lower Wacker on and off about three years ago. He said he was a loner at first but found a sense of community in the Triangle, the barricaded area wedged between two forking lanes of traffic.

The dim lighting, gang graffiti etched on the walls and roaring sound of traffic may seem like an unappealing place to live to most, but many of those who sleep on the makeshift cardboard beds only want a place to stay, Hunter said.

That’s more difficult for those who may be destitute or have a checkered past, like Hunter, who was charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and possession of heroin in February, and has previously been arrested for panhandling and trespassing.

“We do our part to try to make it stay clean, beautify it, to make sure that no negative stuff is happening downtown,” Hunter said as he swept up trash amid the dozen or so makeshift beds. “You got a lot of people and a lot of love.”

The decision to wall off the area follows a street sweep last month in which workers seized homeless people’s property and forced them to move, O’Connell said. The coalition said the tactics violated the city’s own street cleaning policy, which it adopted in 2015 in a settlement agreement reached with Lower Wacker residents who were represented by coalition attorneys.

It was unclear whether the coalition would file a legal challenge to the street sweep or the eviction of homeless people living in the Triangle. O’Connell said it was evident that fencing off areas was part of an ongoing effort that she has seen along Lower Wacker, including areas near State Street and Lower Wacker and in the 300 block of Wacker Drive.

“If you just drive along Lower Wacker, you’ll see that these fences are all over the place,” O’Connell said. “Every year I’ve worked at the coalition, more of these have come up.”

 

WBBM Newsradio: Let homeless stay at Lower Wacker’s ‘The Triangle,’ advocates say

By Mike Krauser

The homeless and their advocates are demanding that the city have a change of heart and not evict people from an area of Lower Wacker Drive known as “The Triangle.”

City officials told the homeless living in the stretch of Lower Wacker near Wabash Avenue they had to be out by Monday due to upcoming construction. But advocates and the homeless themselves said they have little other recourse.

Listen to WBBM Newsradio report here

Amid the stench of urine and the noise of delivery trucks, a man who was evicted from the Lake Shore Drive viaducts who now has a place to stay said the city is being inhumane.

“I’m one of these people. I’ve slept on that ground,” he said. “The city is obligated to help us. It’s about human lives. They may not be as smart as most. They may not be as clean as most.”

Diane O’Connell is an attorney with the Chicago Coalition of the Homeless.

“The city’s response to homelessness is to criminalize, barricade and exclude vulnerable people.”

She noted that for years the city has been kicking the homeless out of fences they seek shelter and erecting places to keep them out.

WLS-AM: City wants to evict Lower Wacker encampment

By Bill Cameron

At City Hall, there’s another homeless controversy brewing.

Too much crime around a homeless encampment on Lower Wacker at Wabash say the police. So City Hall wants the homeless out by Monday so they can fence off a triangle of the area.

At the scene, Lewis Jones said the city gave him housing when he was evicted from a north side homeless encampment and the city should do the same for those in the triangle.

“The city is obligated to help us. All they have to do is what they did with us. It’s about human lives. They may not be as smart as most, or as clean as most, but they deserve the same chance as I got.”

Link to radio report

City Hall says it’s been conducting homeless outreach for individuals in the Lower Wacker triangle and will continue working to help connect them with the resources they need.

Media Advisory: CCH press conference on Lower Wacker eviction

On June 1, the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) provided notice to the homeless residents of Lower Wacker that they must vacate “the Triangle” on June 11. The notice states that all people must vacate the area and remove all of their property, or it will be subject to disposal by the city. An email from a nearby building management company indicates that the purpose of the construction is to block homeless people from sleeping there.

The city’s decision to put up barricades around the Triangle comes on the heels of a recent street sweep in the Triangle, where on May 15 city workers seized homeless people’s property and forced them to move in a manner that violated the city’s own street cleaning policy, which it adopted pursuant to a settlement agreement reached with Lower Wacker residents who were represented by CCH attorneys.

Continue reading Media Advisory: CCH press conference on Lower Wacker eviction

ABC-7: Homeless residents prepare to leave ‘the Triangle’ ahead of construction work

By Evelyn Holmes

The City of Chicago’s plan to move the homeless population of Lower Wacker Drive under Wabash Avenue known as “the Triangle” is underway.

Those living in the area must leave by Monday, when the city will begin work there.

The city plans to fence in the area to prevent homeless people from returning.

“We do our best to engage homeless individuals with resources and services,” said DFSS Deputy Commissioner Joel Mitchell.

The Chicago Department of Transportation posted notices that the space will be closed for construction between June 11 and June 22.

Chicago Coalition for the Homeless objects to the decision, as they did when a tent city in Uptown was dismantled by the city.

“The city’s response to homelessness again and again, is to criminalize, exclude and punish vulnerable people,” said Chicago Coalition for the Homeless Staff Attorney Diane O’Connell.

LINK to ABC-7 report here

City officials defended the fencing as a necessary safety precaution.

“CPD has been working to address recent criminal incidents including, narcotics dealing, robberies, street racing and prostitution that has been taking place in and around the area,” said CPD Spokesperson Anthony Guglielmi via email.

Many Triangle residents said they stay in the area because they have nowhere else to go.

Charles Hunter, 34, is among the dozens of homeless men and women who call the Triangle home. He has lived in the camp for three years.

Hunter said that when the time comes, he’ll just leave.

“This is not the only part of Lower Wacker where people house themselves,” Hunter said.

However, Pacific Garden Mission representatives said they have 1,000 beds available.

Chicago Sun-Times, Mark Brown: Question from Lower Wacker’s rousted homeless – ‘Where are the people gonna go?’

By Mark Brown, columnist

Residents of a homeless encampment on Lower Wacker Drive known as the Triangle have been informed they must vacate the site while the city fences it off to prevent their return.

The camp, located beneath Wabash Avenue across the river from Trump Tower, is one of the most visible homeless gatherings in the city with thousands of motorists passing by daily.

It’s also currently one of the Chicago’s largest homeless camps with as many as 45 people sleeping there at night.

Notices posted Friday by the Chicago Department of Transportation say the site will be closed for construction beginning June 11 at 8 a.m.

“They’re serious this time,” said a homeless man on a Trek bicycle who identified himself as Thomas Johnson, 32.

Johnson, who said he has been staying in the Triangle since he was released from prison six months ago, was referring to the occasional cleanings or sweeps during which the homeless people are forced to relocate temporarily.

This time, though, fencing will be erected similar to wrought iron barriers that were added on Lower Wacker by Mayor Richard M. Daley’s administration to block out the homeless and keep them from returning.

“Where are the people gonna go that’s right here?” asked Johnson.

Many of the homeless residents of an area of Lower Wacker Drive known as the Triangle were still asleep Tuesday morning when the city sent in a team of social workers to discuss plans to remove them. Many others scattered temporarily. | Mark Brown/Sun-Times

Many of the homeless residents of an area of Lower Wacker Drive known
as the Triangle were still asleep Tuesday morning when the city sent
in a team of social workers to discuss plans to remove them. Many
others scattered temporarily. | Mark Brown/Sun-Times

It’s also currently one of the Chicago’s largest homeless camps with as many as 45 people sleeping there at night.

Johnson knows there is no good answer to that question other than that everyone will do what they have to do to survive, which basically will result in moving the problem to another location.

The Chicago Coalition for the Homeless is planning to protest the city’s decision.

“We believe in homes, not fences. We don’t think it’s an appropriate way to deal with homelessness,” said Diane O’Connell, a lawyer for the coalition.

A CDOT spokeswoman said the department had been asked to install fencing as a safety measure “due to unlawful activities that frequently occur in that area.”

Many of the homeless residents of an area of Lower Wacker Drive known as the Triangle were still asleep Tuesday morning when the city sent in a team of social workers to discuss plans to remove them. Many others scattered temporarily. | Mark Brown/Sun-Times

Many of the homeless residents of an area of Lower Wacker Drive known
as the Triangle were still asleep Tuesday morning when the city sent
in a team of social workers to discuss plans to remove them. Many
others scattered temporarily. | Mark Brown/Sun-Times

Chicago Police Department spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said police are concerned about the safety of the homeless people as well as others who live and work in the area.

An array of city social workers were on the scene Tuesday morning to try to connect the homeless people with services and offer to place them in a homeless shelter. But they weren’t getting a friendly reception.

The Triangle is known to harbor a tougher crowd than some other homeless spots. It sometimes appears to function as an open-air drug market, although it’s not always clear who really lives there and who is just passing through.

But most of the homeless people I met there Tuesday morning were non-threatening. They described being on the street for the usual reasons — joblessness, substance abuse, criminal records and combinations thereof.

Rhiannon Gaither, 38, said she has been homeless in the city for four years, even though during most of that time she has worked as a waitress on Michigan Avenue. She lost the job in February.

I asked her why she was out here.

“Heroin,” she said matter-of-factly.

I thanked her for the direct answer, most people in her situation choosing to be more vague.

Gaither said she picked the Triangle over other homeless spots downtown because she has friends there, it’s warmer than other locations, and maybe most important, she’s never seen any rats.

The Triangle was created two decades ago when the city reconfigured Lower Wacker, leaving a triangular shaped area bounded by concrete barriers where Lower South Water Street splits off from Lower Wacker. Unlike most other areas on Lower Wacker, no fencing was erected.

Chris Carter lives in a homeless encampment on Lower Wacker Dr. known as The Triangle. The city plans to evict the people staying there and to erect fencing to keep them from from returning. | Mark Brown/Sun-Times

Chris Carter lives in a homeless encampment on Lower Wacker Dr. known as The Triangle. The city plans to evict the people staying
there and to erect fencing to keep them from from returning. | Mark Brown/Sun-Times

Homeless people quickly took advantage, even though it means sleeping alongside the deafening roar of vehicle traffic, and whoever else shows up.

Chris Carter, 50, who grew up in the projects near Comiskey Park, said he stays in the Triangle because “I don’t want to be a burden on anybody else, and I don’t have a place to go.”

Carter said he’ll just move down the street if evicted from the Triangle, but wishes he could get his own apartment like some of his formerly homeless friends.

“If I could get in a situation like that, I could do better,” Carter said.

There is a shortage of situations like that.

Illinois enacts state budget funding homeless programs

Illinois General Assembly has concluded its 2018 legislative session. In its budget advocacy, Chicago Coalition for the Homeless organizers brought 220 leaders and students to Springfield for 10 lobby days.

The budget bill, Senate Bill 108, funds homeless and housing services during FY19, which will begin July 1. Despite $44 million in cuts to other human services line items, the homeless youth programs received a $500,000 increase, to $6 million, while funds for emergency and transitional housing gained $1 million, to $10.3 million. Funding for homelessness prevention grants and supportive housing line items remained the same from last year’s budget package. Continue reading Illinois enacts state budget funding homeless programs