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?