ABC7: Chance the Rapper hosts party at Field Museum to help the homeless

By Stacy Baca and Cheryl Burton

“We get our people involved, we get our merchandise involved…every resource we have. And when we partner with a group like SocialWorks, we go all in,” said Bradley Nardick, Bargains in a Box.

There was music and dancing and free goodies among the dinosaurs.

While the party was free for needy students, those who can afford it were asked to donate $15 to SocialWorks and winter gear for the homeless. The effort was not lost on even Chance’s youngest fans.

“It means to me very a lot, because he gives people things to those in need and all of that, and it’s pretty good,” Shaylah Clay said.

In Chicago, 82,000 people are homeless, 82 percent of them are doubling up, like couch surfing or staying in a shelter.

“We know that a lot of homelessness isn’t seen, it’s hidden. It’s really important for people to recognize when you see someone on the street that’s just a sliver of the problem,” said Doug Schenkelberg, executive director, Chicago Coalition for the Homeless.

In fact, 18,000 CPS students are homeless. Statewide, that number jumps to 50,000.


Chicago Sun-Times, Mark Brown: Homeless memorial service honors anonymous lives

Benjamin Soto Ramirez was a late entry to the program for Tuesday’s Chicago Homeless Persons Memorial service at Old St. Patrick’s Church.

Ramirez, 67, was beaten to death over the weekend, his body discovered on the sidewalk near the doorway where he usually slept in East Ukrainian Village. 

Most homeless people don’t die quite so dramatically.

They pass quietly, often out of sight, their deaths more likely an unconfirmed rumor to those who knew them on the street than the basis for a news story.

Many never get a funeral. Some of their bodies go unclaimed at the morgue.

It was with that in mind that the annual memorial service was first organized in 2010 by the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, Ignatian Spirituality Project and Old St. Pat’s.

The service provides an opportunity to both pay respects to the dead and call attention to those who remain homeless.

The highlight of the program is the reading of the names of homeless people known to have died in the past year.

As each name is read aloud, a student carries a candle in honor of that individual to the front of the church. It can be an emotional experience.

I say “known” to have died because it’s not as if there is any official list. The names are submitted by homeless shelters familiar with the program.

It is understood that the list is not complete, which is why the candle procession always ends with a nod to “those whose names are known only to God.”

There are 33 names on this year’s list. Where possible, the organizers try to include at least a sentence about each person.

Marcus Faleti, an alcoholic who froze to death at age 58 in Wicker Park in early January, will be remembered as someone who “loved reading the Sun-Times and Wall Street Journal.”

Moriah Ishmael will be honored as “someone who was very respectful and a joy to be around. All Moriah wanted was a place to call his own.”

Will Kelly “was a good friend who helped many people.”

Wesley Sharp “was a kind, respectful and patient man” who will be “missed dearly by friends.”

William Carter died of cancer.

Durell Thomas “was hardworking and just looking for a safe place to stay.” Rhonda died of MRSA. Stanislaw Gal “left behind a wife and kids.”

But sadly even that scant information is often unavailable.

In some cases, all that’s known is when the person died: Ray W. and Nancy in January, Yacob G. in May, Leonard S. in July, C. Glover in August, John G. in September, Christina Kostoff and Patrick S. in October, Tommy Irby in December.

Then there are those who will be recognized only by name: Timothy Griffin, Henry Hartage, Terry King, Andre Perry, Larry Singleton, Angela Williams, Lewis Frost, Bethelynne Johnson, Michael Erl, Rick Berry, Barbara McHenry, Renard Parrish, Claude Michaelis and Kevin Lawson.

As someone who believes every person has a story to tell, that always bothers me.

There’s a common perception of homeless people as dangerous. Some can be, of course, but more often they are victims.

“Our guests are vulnerable. They are vulnerable in so many ways,” said Ed Jacob of Franciscan Outreach, one of the city’s leading providers of homeless services and a sponsor of the memorial service.

“It’s not just exposure to the elements. It’s not just the cold. They don’t have the stability. They don’t have the sense of security that you and I would have,” Jacob said.

Tonight’s memorial at Old St. Pat’s, 700 W. Adams, is scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m.

I learned late Monday of another dead homeless man, Perry Brisby, 49, who was struck by a hit-and-run driver on Dec. 4 in the 2000 block of South Emerald. He died Sunday at Stroger Hospital.

They’ll need to light another candle.

Chicago Sun-Times, Mark Brown: Report says homeless counts miss the mark

By Mark Brown, columnist

One night each January, hundreds of volunteers spread out across Chicago in an effort to count the city’s homeless population.

This task, known as the annual Point-In-Time Count, is replicated in communities across the country under guidelines proscribed by the federal government.

The count is then used to apportion federal dollars for programs benefiting the homeless.

That process is deeply flawed, resulting in a significant undercount of America’s homeless population and in poorly informed public policy, according to a report issued Wednesday by the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty.

The national findings echo concerns often raised here by the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless — and occasionally amplified by me — regarding how the extent of homelessness in Chicago is greatly understated.

The problem is the Point-In-Time Count recognizes only homeless people who can be found that particular night, either living on the street or staying in a homeless shelter.

One obvious shortcoming: Many homeless people on the street try to avoid being seen, either out of personal safety concerns or fear they will be forced to leave their hidden place of shelter.

Less obvious is that the federal count also leaves out the much larger number of homeless families and individuals who live “doubled up” with relatives or friends because they have nowhere else to go, often creating unstable situations that are worse than being in a homeless shelter.

Last year’s Point-In-Time Count for Chicago yielded a tally of 5,657 homeless persons.

But as I reported in April, the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless analyzed U.S. Census data to better calculate the “doubled up” households and concluded that 82,212 people were homeless in Chicago at some point during 2015. The coalition is currently updating its estimate.

The report from the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty also notes federal guidelines fail to take into account that homelessness is often transitory, with people going in and out of homelessness, meaning that many more individuals will become homeless over the course of a year than on any given night.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which oversees the annual count, announced Wednesday a national homeless population of 553,742 in 2017.

That’s an increase of less than 1 percent over 2016, but the first increase since 2010, HUD officials said. Most of the increase was attributed to unsheltered homeless people living on the West Coast.

I’ve always made peace with the Point-In-Time Count on the basis that it is what it is.

There is value to a physical count, even one that is flawed. Tangible results are preferable to estimates. If you understand the annual street count is only showing you the tip of the iceberg, then you’re good to go.

Where it can go wrong is if public officials make decisions on the basis of the count, declaring homelessness to be down, when a lower count actually may have been due to other factors such as changes in the weather from one year to the next.

The city of Chicago reported that its 2017 homeless count was a 4 percent reduction from the 5,889 homeless individuals tallied in 2016. But a closer reading revealed the city used a more stringent methodology in 2017 for counting homeless people sleeping overnight on the CTA, which accounted for much of the drop. The weather was also milder on the night of the 2017 count.

A national homeless advocacy group reported Wednesday that the federal government’s method of counting homeless people results in a serious undercount. | Mitch Dudek/Sun-Times

A city spokesperson said Chicago complies with HUD’s requirements for the Point-In-Time Count, but “also embraces different methodologies to ensure we have the most comprehensive data on this vulnerable population.”

Those extra steps have included participating in a national research and policy initiative focused on runaway, homeless and unstably housed youth, she said.

Chicago’s 2018 homeless count is scheduled for the night of Jan. 25. Results are made public months later.

When they are released, keep in mind you’re only seeing part of the picture. Marc USA supports Chicago homeless with pro bono campaign

By Larissa Faw

Marc USA is seeking to help Chicago homeless this holiday season with its pro bono advocacy campaign that raises awareness and urges financial support for the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless.

Launching this week to coincide with the national Homeless Awareness Week, the creative proclaims, “Let’s make Chicago a 4-star city for everyone” by leveraging Chicago’s 4-star flag that symbolizes for most residents the city’s top quality of life.

Ads show well-known Chicago neighborhoods that would likely rate “four stars” are contrasted with the “half-star rated” viaducts and street corners that serve as homes for thousands of Chicagoans. The spot ends with a call-to-action seeking donations.

Reel Chicago names Marc USA 4-star city video its “Reel Ad of the Week”

The integrated campaign includes 30- and 60-second videos running as broadcast and digital PSAs as well as print and outdoor versions.

A mobile donation platform supports a text-to-donate message on outdoor, print and TV components.  There’s also a link in the digital executions.

The goal is to make it easy for people to act when they see the campaign, says the agency. It’s about small donations from many people.

This work was driven inside the agency by several Chicago-based MARCers who were deeply affected by the sights of homelessness in the city during last year’s colder than usual winter. Similar to last year’s Know No about sexual consent that evolved in Chicago, associates in each office are encouraged to take on causes that matter to them.


WGN TV: Fighting homelessness: ‘What we’re going through right now, I don’t wish that on anyone’

By Gaynor Hall and Pam Grimes

CHICAGO — By one estimate, more than 80,000 Chicagoans are struggling with homelessness. Think about it — that would be the entire population of a city like Champaign.

About 18,000 of them are Chicago Public School students. Housing advocates say it’s a growing problem we cannot address, unless we acknowledge the tremendous need.

In a 2-part series, WGN’s Gaynor Hall looks at homelessness in Chicago. Chicago Coalition for the Homeless Executive Director Doug Schenkelberg is featured throughout the first story.

The series also reports on developing “Tiny Homes” to help house those who are homeless. That effort is spearheaded in Chicago by Tracy Baim, a CCH Board member and Windy City Times publisher.

LINK to the WGN video reports

For more information, visit the following links:

Producer Pam Grimes and Photojournalists Mike D’Angelo, Reed Nolan and Kevin Doellmann contributed to this report.

WBEZ: Where can homeless people pitch tents in Chicago?

By Odette Yousef

Homeless couple Shawn Moore and Amie Smith said city workers have thrown out more than a dozen of their tents in the past two years. Yet, they said they still don’t understand where they can — and can’t — pitch a tent in Chicago and why.

The couple said they first tried to set up tents on the sidewalks of lower-level streets downtown near Millennium Park, but police regularly rousted them from those locations. So they searched for an even more secluded spot and eventually found a small patch of concrete a few blocks east.

The new spot, just off Lake Shore Drive near Randolph Street, offered a variety of benefits. They said the highway overhead protected their belongings from the rain. And because the spot is not a sidewalk, they were not obstructing pedestrians. Best of all, they said, was the magnificent view of Lake Michigan.

Smith and Moore said their location off a Lake Shore Drive exit ramp affords them privacy, protection from the rain and a magnificent view. (Odette Yousef/WBEZ)

Moore said that two weeks after they settled in, police discovered their new location and came by every day in an effort to get them to move — again. Now, the couple said, city workers take their tents at least once a month. To prevent their belongings from ending up in the back of a garbage truck, they said one person has to be there at all times, which is time not spent on things like searching for a job.

“[You’re] not going to find many places that’s not actually in somebody’s way,” Moore said. “We’ve been fortunate enough to find a couple, but I’m sure it’s not going to be many more if they run us off of this one.”

City workers remove Smith and Moore’s tent from an area just off Lake Shore Drive near Randolph Street. (Odette Yousef/WBEZ)

Moore and Smith aren’t alone. Residents who lack stable housing pitch tents throughout the city. But those tents, which offer freedom and privacy not found in homeless shelters, also put them in the crosshairs of city workers. Lawyers for homeless people said the city’s rules on tents are vague and the enforcement is uneven.

Why live in tents?

Smith and Moore have also pitched tents on the lower levels of some downtown streets. They said staying near the downtown business district should make it easier to find jobs, but they also are reluctant to leave their tent unattended because they fear city workers will confiscate it. (Odette Yousef/WBEZ)

Chicago had 5,657 homeless people in early 2017, according to a city report on homelessness. City officials and homeless advocates said they don’t know how many of those people are setting up tents as makeshift shelters. But the city report, which some advocates believe drastically undercounts the homeless population, found 1,561 people living in places not meant for human habitation, such as on sidewalks or in parks.

In April, Department of Family and Social Services deputy commissioner Alisa Rodriguez said the city does not have enough space at shelters for all the known homeless people. The acknowledgement came during a hearing about a proposed tent city in front of a shuttered elementary school in the Uptown community.


That means city officials acknowledged that some people may have little choice but to live outside because of capacity limits at shelters and a deficit of affordable housing. As seen throughout Chicago, some of them live in tents.

The municipal code says the city can limit tent use

Shawn Smith and Amie Moore said Chicago police officers regularly visit them to post these notices of intention to remove the couple’s tent. The notices cite municipal ordinance and a non-binding agreement on sidewalk cleaning policies as reasons for confiscating the couple’s property. (Odette Yousef/WBEZ)

So where can homeless Chicagoans pitch a tent? One thing city officials point to is a provision in the city’s municipal code.

According to the code: “No person shall use any public way for the storage of personal property, goods, wares or merchandise of any kind. Nor shall any person place or cause to be placed in or upon any public way, any barrel, box, hogshead, crate, package or other obstruction of any kind, or permit the same to remain thereon longer than is necessary to convey such article to or from the premises abutting on such sidewalk.”

The code doesn’t specifically mention tents, but city officials indicated the spirit of the rule is not to obstruct the sidewalk.

Jennifer Rottner, a spokeswoman for the city’s Department of Family and Social Services, added that some exceptions may be made for tents, but only if the city grants permission.

“While all residents are welcome to use the public way, they do not have the right to obstruct the public way or keep tents or structures on the public way without a permit,” Rottner wrote in an email to WBEZ.

But Rottner did not know what type of permit was required or how to apply for it.

Once Streets and Sanitation workers throw Smith and Moore’s tent in a city garbage truck, the police officers and other city employees leave. Smith and Moore said they will spend the next few hours panhandling to purchase a new tent that they will put up in the same location that night. (Odette Yousef/WBEZ)

While city officials cite municipal code, Illinois also has one of the strongest laws in the country when it comes to protecting the rights of homeless people. The Illinois Bill of Rights for the Homeless Act, passed in 2013, affirms that Illinois residents may not be treated any differently simply because they don’t have a home.

Matthew Piers, an attorney with Hughes Socol Piers Resnick & Dym who is helping represent Moore and Smith, said the Illinois Bill of Rights for the Homeless Act and the municipal code together mean the city can impose some restrictions on tents — like limiting what times they can be up — but don’t allow the prohibition of tents outright.

“Certainly the city couldn’t validly say you couldn’t pitch a tent in your backyard,” Piers said. “As long as they’re not blocking the public way, or creating a nuisance or even inconvenience to anybody else, I would seriously question any attempt to limit their use of tents.”

Moore and Smith’s noted that their tent overlooking the lake was not on a sidewalk.

Two police officers told WBEZ a third reason for taking the couple’s tent in July. They said tents were not allowed in the central business district. Anthony Guglielmi, spokesman for the police department, referred questions about the officers’ claim to the city’s Law Department and Department of Family and Social Services.

Bill McCaffrey, a spokesman for the Law Department, said no such law exists.

The city says it takes tents because of a non-binding agreement

City officials cite another basis for removing tents, a legal settlement called the Bryant Agreement.

The city reached the settlement with 16 homeless people in 2015. The agreement spells out how the city will conduct cleanings of sidewalk areas where homeless people live. It also lists what — and how many — personal possessions homeless people can keep with them.

McCaffrey, the Law Department spokesman, pointed to the agreement when asked about where homeless people can have tents in the city. In an email, he rattled off a list of items prohibited under the agreement: “Tents, non-air mattresses, box springs, potted plants, crates, large appliance boxes, carts, gurneys, wagons or furniture, including chairs, tables, couches and bed frames.”

However, McCaffrey’s list differs from what’s written in the agreement, which makes no specific mention of tents. McCaffrey did not respond to follow-up questions about why his language differed from that in the agreement or whether the off-street cleaning policies have changed.

Piers, the attorney, noted that the Homeless Bill of Rights has higher standing than the Bryant Agreement.

“[The Bryant Agreement] has no binding effect on any other person other than the signatories to the agreement,” Piers said. “And, by the way, at the city’s insistence it has no binding effect to the City of Chicago.”

For homeless people, the patchwork is confusing

Amie Smith and Shawn Moore said city workers have thrown away more than a dozen of their tents. They are currently staying on the northbound Randolph Street exit of Lake Shore Drive. (Odette Yousef/WBEZ)

Many homeless residents, like Moore and Smith, said the real problem is how to make sense of the city’s selective enforcement of its tent rules.

Moore and Smith said they regularly had their tents taken away from them when they were in areas that pedestrians do not frequent, such as lower-level streets downtown or highway exit ramps. By contrast, the city tolerated — often contentiously — dozens of tents on sidewalks that pedestrians regularly use at the Wilson and Lawrence Avenue viaducts in Uptown. The Uptown tent cities were eventually forced to disband in September, but only because of construction on the overpasses.

Diane O’Connell, an attorney with the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless helping Moore and Smith, said she has concluded that the city aggressively removes tents when media aren’t looking. She noted the city backed down from removing tents in Uptown in 2016 after numerous news reports highlighted the difficulties those homeless residents would face going into the winter.

Neither Rottner nor McCaffrey answered a question about claims that the city enforces tent rules selectively.

Piers said the city’s uneven enforcement underscores a need for clear and binding rules.

Moore said he also needs clarity on another issue, namely why the city is allowed to seize their belongings. The Illinois Bill of Rights for the Homeless allows him the same security in his personal possessions as anyone with a home might expect.

“You can keep telling me to take it down, take it down, take it down,” Moore said. “But why do you have the right to keep taking it? That’s what I’m not understanding….  I purchased this. It’s not illegal for me to purchase. It’s not illegal for me to have. It’s not illegal for me to put up. Why do you keep taking it?”

Continue reading WBEZ: Where can homeless people pitch tents in Chicago?

Crain’s Chicago Business, Letter to the Editor: What city do we want to be?

By Doug Schenkelberg, CCH Executive Director

As was well-publicized over the past few weeks, the city of Chicago evicted a community of people experiencing homelessness under Lake Shore Drive viaducts on the North Side to make way for a construction project.

When the city set a date to evict the residents, the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless filed a lawsuit on behalf of the people in the encampments. Does CCH believe that crumbling bridges should not be rebuilt or that bike lanes are a bad idea or that people should be living on the street? No. We believe everyone has the right to housing, and that it is our collective responsibility to ensure that everyone can access that right.

Our motion to halt the eviction and delay the construction was denied by the judge, and the city evicted the people and disbanded the community. So rather than the city putting resources into transitioning people into permanent housing, resources were put into a line of police standing behind a row of tents, ready to pull them down from their new spot because the city is clearly determined to keep homelessness from being visible in Uptown.

In light of this situation and the fact that there are over 82,000 people in Chicago that experience homelessness in some form in a year, I ask the question—what city do we want to be?

Are we a city that wants to pour resources and effort into hiding homelessness, designing our public spaces to keep people without access to permanent housing from being in the public eye? Do we want to shrug our shoulders at the size of the problem and say it’s just too much?

Or do we want to be a city that makes ending homelessness a priority, one that believes our community is stronger when we provide real housing and support to those who need it?

This is our city and this is our choice. We can and should dedicate the scale of funding needed to end homelessness. This vision is not to say the city has done nothing to address homelessness, but rather to acknowledge it is not enough.

What happened at the viaducts will happen again. There are other tent encampments, other city projects on the drawing board. This situation is not an anomaly. So, I ask again, what kind of city do we want to be?

Chicago Tribune: Over dinner, Chicago residents connect with homeless

At a trendy restaurant in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood, diners sat at a table near the front window and chatted casually over drinks.

To someone looking in from the busy stretch of Broadway, the dinner party looked like any other group of friends grabbing a bite after work.

But these unlikely dinner companions — a homeless man, a woman getting by with the support of a LINK card and a housing subsidy, and working professionals from Lincoln Park, the Gold Coast and the West Loop neighborhoods — were trying to do something they say doesn’t happen enough.

The group is part of a new initiative called Dinners for Humanity, which pairs Chicago residents with homeless and other people down on their luck for a sit-down dinner at a restaurant.

With almost no overhead costs and a simple strategy — setting up the monthly dinners, where volunteers agree to spend about $30 on dinner for themselves and their guest — the nonprofit that started through a social media post aims to address the Chicago area’s ongoing homeless problem in a small but meaningful way.

“We live in a world that’s so incredibly divided for no good reason,” said Alex Ripley, 40, who volunteered recently as part of the group’s second gathering. “It’s just an opportunity to reconnect.”

The dinner came one week before construction began on a project that displaced dozens of homeless residents living in tents just a few blocks away under the Lake Shore Drive viaducts at Wilson and Lawrence avenues. Advocates for the homeless had tried to block the city from starting construction, arguing that the city’s plans for bike paths and sidewalks intentionally kept the homeless from returning. But a judge ruled that the city could move forward with the project.

Given the emotional debate that has gone on for weeks, advocates for the homeless say Dinners for Humanity could offer a way to help Chicago residents to get to know their community — including some of the 82,000 people living in shelters, doubled-up with other families or on the streets.

“There are different ways to help people better understand what people living in extreme poverty and with low income and no options,” said Anne Bowhay, director of foundation relations and media for the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless. “One-on-one experiences have a real impact.”

Dinners for Humanity was developed by a young professional named Mehdi Lazrak, who moved to Chicago last year. A Morroccan immigrant who came to the U.S. to get a degree at Yale University, Lazrak said he was surprised to see the way people in America seemed to look down on the homeless population and walk by people living on the streets without concern.

While working his first job out of college in Seattle, Lazrak offered to take a homeless man he saw each day at a bus stop out to dinner. He was surprised by the way the gesture gave him a deeper understanding of the man’s challenges, he said.

“It really changed my perspective,” said Lazrak, 26. “I always felt compassion for homeless people, but I just had no idea about circumstances about what lead them to be homeless.”

When Lazrak was transferred by his company, Expedia, to Chicago in 2016, he decided to start a community project that made more of those dinners possible. He put a message on Facebook and to gauge interest and was grateful when volunteers eagerly came forward.

After several months of planning, the most enthusiastic and involved volunteers became the nonprofit’s board members. To keep costs low and make easy connections, they partnered with a well-established group, Inspiration Corporation, a nonprofit that already was offering meals, job training and other services in Uptown.

Volunteers knowingly accept that some of the dinner guests may have criminal histories or mental illness, but the organizers have made it their mission not to discriminate unless there is a real safety risk.

“It’s a simple activity that brings people together,” said Xochitl Guerrero, a Dinners for Humanity board member who spends her days working with mentally ill inmates in Cook County. “You get reacquainted with humanity.”

The volunteers and dinner guest meet briefly at the Inspiration Corporation’s North Broadway office before being dispatched into small groups who walk to nearby restaurants, which are not alerted ahead of time. The planning of the events is the biggest challenge, since many dinner guests are hard to reach and drop out at the last minute.

But once they’re on the way to the restaurants, the conversations are unscripted and uncensored, Lazrak said.

At this month’s dinner, eight dinner guests joined nine volunteers at four restaurants around Uptown.

Over potstickers, spring rolls and chicken satay at Dib Sushi Bar, Renee Martin, 31, told her dinner companions that while she is glad to no longer be homeless, the cost of living in Chicago makes it sometimes feel impossible for her to imagine a day when her paychecks will be enough to cover rent, food and other expenses. In addition to her LINK card and a rent subsidy, she donates plasma regularly to make ends meet, she said.

“I’ve really been fighting for my independence,” Martin said. “You’ve got to be responsible, even when it’s hard.”

Emily Holland, 30, a freelance writer living in the Gold Coast, said she was nervous when she stepped off the train for the volunteer opportunity, but headed home feeling inspired and fulfilled.

“I ended up feeling more comfortable at that table and more connected with people than I have in other social settings,” Holland said. “I was pleasantly surprised with how much we had to talk about.”

Lazrak and other organizers hope that as the nonprofit continues, it will grow its volunteer base and encourage ongoing relationships between the dinner participants. Organizers believe that the small interactions have the potential to grow into community-wide conversations that humanize the homeless and raise the public’s awareness about how to help.

Until then, they’re just glad to be introducing people and filling stomachs.

While digging into a steak dinner with dill rice and charbroiled vegetables at Caravan, Sidney Wright described how even though he works regularly selling concessions at White Sox games and other odd jobs, he can’t afford a security deposit and regular rent for an apartment and bounces between shelters.

As he finished the last sips of his Coke, he thanked his dinner dates for a great evening.

“I fell but I didn’t fall out,” said Wright, acknowledging past struggles.

“I’m down, but I’m not out,” he told his dinner companions. “It’s good to be treated well.”

Chicago Sun-Times, Mark Brown: Uptown’s homeless fold their tents, city covers its eyes

Police line Wilson Avenue where homeless people briefly set up their tents Monday after the city demanded they leave two Lake Shore Drive viaducts. |Mark Brown/Sun-Times

By Mark Brown, Columnist

As Chicago police moved in Monday with crews of city workers to forcibly remove, if necessary, the homeless people from their Uptown tents, activists struck up a chant of “The whole world is watching.”

If only that were true.

Mostly the world looks away from the homeless, except when it can’t avoid their presence, as in the case of the Tent City camps that are no more.

In the end, no force was necessary to complete the camps’ eviction. No blows were struck. No arrests made.

Just the threat of force was enough to convince the remaining 20-25 homeless people to literally fold their tents.

Still, it was touch and go for a while until Pastor Carey Gidron, a friend of the homeless, convinced them they would be better off to voluntarily give up, preserve their belongings and avoid a threatened trip to jail.

So one-by-one they complied until all the tents were down.

Yet afterward, the question had to be asked: What exactly was accomplished this day, beyond clearing the path for a Lake Shore Drive construction project?

“Nothing. Not a thing,” said Peter Rasmussen, a lean 58-year-old homeless man as we sat in the sun in a small park alongside Wilson Avenue where the recent residents of two Lake Shore Drive viaducts had tried to restage their camps on the city right-of-way.

Police declared the new location too dangerous, and beyond that, said the homeless people didn’t have a permit.

“But where can we go?” said the homeless and their supporters. And for that there was no good answer.

When I left them late in the afternoon, one homeless man was passed out drunk on a park bench, another in the grass by the sidewalk. Nearby, a couple had moved deeper into the park to sort their belongings, their plan uncertain.

And, oh yes, some people were putting up the tents again, this time on the city right-of-way on the west side of Marine Drive south of Wilson.

Rasmussen and others had discussed such a possibility earlier.

I told him the city would chase them off from there, too.

“Are they just going to move us around like cattle?” he asked, to which the honest answer was “yes,” although I don’t think I said anything.

We agreed his best approach would probably be to slip off into the park at night by himself or in a small group, making sure to pack up by morning, which was what the homeless used to do before the tent encampments.

The camps were a safer alternative for the homeless, but neighbors felt more threatened by seeing them congregated in one place.

It is not illegal to be homeless in America, but the proof of that was not evident in Uptown on Monday.

It’s probably more correct to say that it is legal to be homeless as long as you don’t stop long enough in any one place that somebody notices you.

Some will hail Monday’s removal of the homeless as progress. I will chalk it up as another chapter in moving the homeless out of the way without really solving the problem.

That’s not to say it was a total loss.

In the lead-up to Monday’s eviction, some individuals received help getting into housing who probably wouldn’t have without all the fuss.

One of them, Mark Saulys, had received keys to an apartment three days earlier and was already feeling the benefits.

“You know what I feel like? I feel like my mother is still alive,” he told me.

Then on Monday, four more took the city’s offer to come off the street and accept beds in a nearby homeless shelter, including Carol Adalpe, the 68-year-old woman with the two dogs I have written about previously.

She refused to budge until promised she could bring the dogs with her.

As I left, Adalpe was riding off into the sunset on her motorized scooter, her friends trailing along with the dogs.

That does not make this a happy ending.

Windy City Times: City clears out Uptown tent residents

facebook twitter pin it google +1 reddit email

By Matt Simonette

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.