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Senior Community Organizer Rachel Ramirez traveled to Hungary, Romania and Slovakia this month, training and collaborating with service providers interested in learning more about community organizing.
Attorneys for homeless residents evicted from living in tents under the Wilson and Lawrence avenue viaducts will continue a lawsuit contesting the discriminatory redesign of Uptown viaducts, now undergoing reconstruction.
At a court hearing Monday, attorneys that include the CCH Law Project withdrew a request for a temporary restraining order, noting that the issue was moot because the hearing was set several hours after the city carried out the 7 a.m. eviction.
In a chaotic early morning scene Sept. 18, city authorities evicted persons who had been residing beneath Lake Shore Drive viaducts at Wilson and Lawrence avenues on the North Lakefront.Residents and advocates had expected the eviction; city officials had announced the deadline a month earlier, but, according to residents, they had not been forthcoming with any new housing options. Many LGBT activists have been working on this issue for several months.
Residents had earlier moved their tents out from under the viaducts, taking them to the parkways a block west. City workers erected fences blocking off areas beneath the bridge. At 8:30 a.m., members of the Chicago Department of Family & Support Services arrived and began talking to residents, telling them that they had to take their tents down.
In a statement to reporters, Rev. Fred Kinsey of Unity Lutheran Church said that concerned activists and residents “take this seriously. People are being pushed out of their homes. … We know this struggle is going to continue in the weeks to come.”
“The city’s solution is to put people out of sight and out of mind,” added Ryne Poelker of Tent City Organizers, who called the situation “a true representation of the failures of Mayor [Rahm] Emanuel and Alderman [James] Cappleman.”
Most Tent City residents were unsure of where to go next. Resident Tom Gordon said he had just moved his tent to Lawrence Avenue and Marine Drive. Officials there had refused to let the residents actually erect the tents.
“They told us they’ve got to lay flat—we can’t set them up,” Gordon said. “… They didn’t want it to look like we were moving in, but we are moving in. We’ve got no place else to go. They took the bridge from us, because they need to repair it. This is the only safe place we can go.”
Mark Saulys was one of a handful of residents who had been transferred into a subsidized apartment through a pilot program the city launched last year. He lamented that only a small number of residents had been helped.
“Twenty years ago, I was homeless,” said Saulys. “I was always a poor laborer. But I got a job and I rented a room at an SRO. Nobody helped me at all. But that job is gone and that SRO is gone. It’s a different world today. A lot of people need some help.”
Another resident, Sean, is an openly gay man who has lived under the viaducts for a few months. He was priced out of where he had been living in Lakeview, and was experiencing homelessness even as he was working. He said that he was on his way to look at an apartment that morning.
“There is money for the things that we need that would be more of a comfort,” Sean said. “… Quit harassing us. Quit using tax dollars for your little cronies to drive through the viaduct and honk their horns and clang their loud machines at three or four o’clock in the morning. As a working person, those are my dollars that are going to that.”
Adam Gianforte, who has been living under the Lawrence Avenue viaduct for five months, said, “Sometimes we think of the city as an ‘entity,’ but these are the people who make up the city. These are our neighbors. When you have a friend who is homeless, it’s hard to ignore them, because they are your friend. … These people are the city.”
The press conference was called by homeless residents of the Wilson and Lawrence viaducts, the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless and ONE Northside.
Late in the morning residents were in Courtroom 2508 of the Daley Center regarding their complaint against the city of Chicago, pursuant to the Illinois Bill of Rights for the Homeless Act, trying to stop the city’s evictions.
The city of Chicago cleared out what was left of the former homeless encampments under Lake Shore Drive in Uptown on Monday morning and required residents to leave a nearby parkway, while advocates abandoned their attempts in court to block the city from starting construction on the crumbling structures.
Representatives from the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless withdrew a request for a temporary restraining order they hoped would delay work on the Wilson and Lawrence avenue bridges, a six-month construction project that required more than two dozen homeless people living under the bridges to move elsewhere. The bridges were built in 1933 and are among the most traveled structurally deficient structures in the city, according to the American Road & Transportation Builders Association, a Washington-based trade group.
The coalition sought permanent housing options for the tent city residents, and say that the city’s plans for bike paths on the sidewalks at Lawrence and Wilson are intended to block the homeless from returning.
“We believe they are intentionally discriminatory,” coalition attorney Patricia Nix-Hodes told reporters after the hearing, referring to the construction plans.
Construction could begin as soon as Tuesday, according to Chicago Department of Transportation spokeswoman Susan Hofer, and is scheduled to continue until March 31.
The tent city residents had relocated their tents to a grassy parkway just west of the bridges Sunday. Streets and Sanitation workers tossed blankets, food, mattresses and a tent left under the Lawrence bridge into blue garbage trucks early Monday.
Later in the morning, police began ordering the former tent city residents to leave the new spot they picked along the public way bordering Wilson and Marine Drive.
Chicago police Cmdr. Marc Buslik said CDOT workers would seize tents and belongings from those who did not comply with the order to move, and that remaining residents would receive citations. However, Hofer said CDOT would not have confiscated tents and belongings.
“Our role is enforcing the freedom of the public way, and by filing complaints with the Police Department we did that,” Hofer said. She said the tents were so close to the street that if someone had tripped and fallen out of a tent, he or she could have been run over. “We wanted them to be safe.”
About 10:45 a.m., officers stationed themselves behind the encampment along Wilson as some residents began packing their possessions. City workers began removing tents and belongings just before 11:15 as supporters chanted, “Stop harassing the homeless.”
Deputy Chief Al Nagode said the residents’ personal effects were being taken to the North Area Community Service Center at 845 W. Wilson, which is operated by the city’s Family and Support Services Department.
Nagode said residents had to leave because their tents were in a permitted area for construction.
By noon Monday, most of the tents on the parkway had been dismantled and the enforcement left people scrambling to find alternatives. One man asked officers for some additional time to vacate the area, as he tried to secure a different housing arrangement. Several residents said they had not determined where they would head next.
City officials said they have been working with the homeless and trying to find them alternative housing. But many of the people interviewed say they don’t want the shelter offered.
Maggie Gruzlewski, 49, who has depression as well as multiple physical problems, said her pocket has been picked at a shelter and she doesn’t want to stay there.
“I have a hard time sleeping there,” she said. “It’s noisy. There are bedbugs.”
She said she’s on a waiting list for housing and has been homeless for six months.
A former resident at the Lawrence bridge, Senad Filan, 45, was in tears. He thought he would get a key to an apartment Monday from an advocacy group. But it didn’t come, and now he was not sure what would happen. He said he had been homeless for five years.
“You try to be calm and be patient,” said Filan, wiping his eyes as he stood by his collapsed tent, decorated with a Blackhawks scarf. “Some friends are going to help me.”
Andrew Worseck, an attorney for the city, told Cook County Circuit Judge Celia Gamrath in court on Monday that the city had also arranged for shelter beds in Uptown, and that more shelter options are being added daily. City officials had proposed moving the tent city residents to the Pacific Garden Mission in the South Loop, about 8 miles away.
But attorneys for the coalition countered that the shelter beds in Uptown were for men only, and that the Pacific Garden Mission did not have facilities for the mentally ill. Many tent city residents said they rejected an offer from the city to go to the South Loop facility for similar reasons, and also because it requires participation in religious services.
Yehuda Rothschild, one of the founders of Uptown Tent City Organizers, said residents and advocates were hoping that a permanent housing option from the city would materialize by Monday. Hope was a “long shot,” but residents had few other options, he said.
“These are people at the end of their rope,” Rothschild said. “They can’t help themselves or they would.”
Julian Andrews, 37, said he began living under the Lawrence viaduct after losing his previous housing. He said he scraped together enough money to stay in a hotel Sunday night and returned to the neighborhood to collect his possessions from the bridge.
By the time he arrived Monday morning, city crews had cleared the area, and his things were gone. He said did not know whether his belongings had been thrown away or moved someplace else.
“I’m lost, man. I’m lost more than I already was,” Andrews said through tears.
WHAT: Press conference convened by homeless encampment residents of the viaducts on Lake Shore Drive at Wilson and Lawrence avenues. Residents received a 30-day notice that they must vacate the premises by September 18 at 7 a.m. due to viaduct repairs.
Residents who will be displaced have been calling for a housing alternative as well as a re-design of the viaducts that does not discriminate against homeless people. The current re-design puts bike lanes on the sidewalks, which is less safe for pedestrians, bikes, and cars, and which is discriminatory toward homeless people. The city has met neither of these demands.
Residents will speak to the press about their campaign, the city’s lack of response, and their plans moving forward.
At 10:30 a.m. Monday, residents will be in Courtroom 2508 of the Daley Center regarding their complaint filed by CCH against the city of Chicago, pursuant to the Illinois Bill of Rights for the Homeless Act.
WHERE: Wilson Avenue and Lake Shore Drive
WHO: Homeless residents of the Wilson and Lawrence viaducts, Chicago Coalition for the Homeless (CCH), and ONE Northside
In June, Senior Organizer Rachel Ramirez’ research — titled “The community organizing model of organizational leadership” — was awarded “Best Abstract” by a panel of judges at the the Chicago Universities for Public Policy Research Symposium at Northwestern University.
Rachel originally submitted this research for her master’s degree in Public Policy and Administration at Northwestern, which she completed in 2016 while working full-time at CCH.
By Rachel Ramirez
I began my organizing career about seven years ago under the guidance of an organizer who amazed me by seeing the possibility for transformative social change in every issue, no matter how terrible or unjust. What I didn’t realize was that as his mentee, I myself was a participant in and beneficiary of the “community organizing model of leadership” from day one. As a novice Midwest Academy intern, I would come back to the office from the field with information on the issues and social problems that community members identified during our one-on-one conversations. My early mentor would ask me questions, push back, motivate me, and send me back out into the field to keep doing the work myself. Like most new organizers, I felt lost, frustrated, and energized as I witnessed and helped to unfold a successful campaign to prevent the total loss of public medical care in an impoverished Chicago community.
The capacity of organizing to “turn pain into power” (a refrain often used by CCH leader Leeanna Majors) and to create real change against the tide of the status quo continues to captivate me, and to be underestimated by almost everyone outside of the organizing field. Organizers know how to grow the leadership of people who are often overlooked, foster creative teams, and help and guide people into strategic battle in the public arena. Organizers are rarely seen as “leaders” in the traditional sense, because, just as my mentor was doing in my first summer of organizing, we lead from behind. It was the realization during my graduate school program in Public Policy and Administration that organizing is underappreciated and misunderstood in both the public and private sectors that agitated me to research and write about the organizing model of leadership, and I am pleased that I have been able to share it in writing and in presentations with organizers and non-organizers alike.
My master’s thesis poses the first known model of organizational leadership based on organizing practices. This research uses a grounded theory approach, including the development of a visual model, to synthesize the perspectives of seven experienced Chicago-based community organizers and the existing literature to create a community organizing model of organizational leadership. Findings show that while the community organizing model shares commonalities with both the servant leadership and transformative leadership models, community organizing practices constitute a unique model of leadership because of their emphasis on public power. Building a more powerful organization is the baseline for all community organizing leadership objectives, practices and skills of community organizers. A powerful organization allows the development of community leaders to lead to efficacy in the public arena via strategic campaigns.
It is not my organizer’s ego that compels me to want to make the organizing model of leadership more widely known. Most organizers, myself included, do not desire to be “seen” by the traditional power structures that we are helping to bend to the will of the people. However, organizing is direly needed in conflict situations across the United States and the globe, to help people work together to transform their society and achieve what they need through effective, nonviolent means. And the benefits to organizing of becoming a more widely respected field include a broader stream of funding and of talented aspiring organizers. I hope to continue to contribute as both a practitioner and a researcher in order to help our field grow to meet the challenges of our time, and to help lead more individuals onto this path of social change as my first mentor did for me.
Complaint contends city redesign of viaducts discriminates against homeless people
Homeless residents of the Uptown Wilson and Lawrence viaducts, through their attorneys, filed a lawsuit against the city of Chicago on Thursday. Plaintiffs Carol Aldape and Thomas Gordon, supported by attorneys from the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, Butler Rubin Saltarelli & Boyd LLP, and Uptown People’s Law Center, argue that the city’s re-design of the viaducts violates the Illinois Homeless Bill of Rights because it “discriminates against them solely because they are homeless.” Continue reading Homeless Uptown viaduct residents file lawsuit against the city