By Tanveer Ali
CHICAGO — People living under the Wilson Avenue viaduct at Lake Shore Drive and on Lower Wacker Drive will be given enough notice to clear their possessions ahead of street cleaning operations under a new city policy.
The policy, approved earlier this month, came after negotiations between the city and the nonprofit Chicago Coalition for the Homeless.
“We have had a lot of complaints from people in those areas about having their property destroyed by Streets and Sanitation and the Chicago Police,” said Chicago Coalition for the Homeless attorney Diane O’Connell.
On Tuesday, people living under the Wilson Avenue viaduct said the new arrangement gives them some peace of mind.
“I’ve lost my stuff twice,” said Dorothy Gardner, a 50-year-old woman who said she has lived with her husband there for the past year. “Two tents, a bunch of blankets, clothes, personal papers. I just need to start over every time.”
The agreement only applies to the area under the Lake Shore Drive viaduct at Wilson Avenue and Lower Wacker Drive — both areas with sizable homeless populations — but could be expanded to other parts of the city as necessary, O’Connell said.
Under the policy, weekly cleanings will generally take place at a specific time with at least 24 hours notice posted on signs in the affected areas.
“The goal of this policy is to maintain public areas in a clean and sanitary condition, protect the public health and safety, and ensure the accessibility of public areas to all,” said Matt Smith, spokesman for the city’s Department of Family and Support Services.
The policy also outlines what items people may have while living in these areas: a sleeping bag or bedroll, not more than two coats, not more than two pairs of shoes or boots, not more than five blankets and not more than three bags or suitcases.
From October to April, up to 10 blankets and two sleeping bags or bedrolls are allowed.
In addition, some people living in the affected area have other possessions such as tents. The notice gives them enough time to move their stuff while the area is cleaned, Wilson Avenue residents said.
“I came back and literally had nothing,” said Thomas Stephen, 61, who said he lost all of his stuff while he went to church one October morning.
The three agencies involved in the street cleaning — Family & Support Services, Streets and Sanitation and the Police — will begin implementing the new policies in the coming weeks, Smith said.