Homeless Uptown viaduct residents file lawsuit against the city

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.” 

Residents have been notified by the city that they must vacate the viaducts by Monday, September 18 at 7 a.m. so that repair work can begin. The class action lawsuit seeks injunctive relief – a delay of the eviction date – until permanent housing is provided for the residents who live there, and for a re-design that does not discriminate against homeless people.

The current re-design includes bike lanes placed on the sidewalks, where homeless people currently reside. However, this plan is not in line with transportation planning best practices. Every day, Lawrence Avenue is traveled by 15,500 cars and Wilson Avenue is traveled by 8,700 cars. Roads with fewer than 19,000 cars a day can accommodate motor vehicle traffic with one lane of traffic plus a bike lane on the street in each direction. Wilson and Lawrence have two lanes in each direction. A design that places the bike lanes in the street would be safer for pedestrians, bikers, and motor vehicles, the suit contends.

Thomas Gordon, one of the plaintiffs, said, “There is a law against biking on the sidewalk. There must be a reason for that law. You aren’t supposed to bike on the sidewalks, so why would the city put a bike lane there just to keep us out?”

“The city had the option of adding the bike lanes without reducing the width of the sidewalks, but consciously chose not to take that option. We believe this decision is intentional and the city wants to simply remove people experiencing homelessness from the line of sight of other residents without providing any permanent support,” said Doug Schenkelberg, executive director of the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless.

“The city’s insistence on elevating bicycles over people who are homeless is exactly the sort of discrimination the Homeless Bill of Rights is intended to prevent,” said Alan Mills, executive director of Uptown People’s Law Center.

Plaintiffs will seek an emergency order from the Cook County Circuit Court to require the city to provide housing to viaduct residents and to change the design before construction begins.

Media Contact:

Diane O’Connell, Staff Attorney, Law Project of the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, diane@chicagohomeless.org


About Chicago Coalition for the Homeless: Since 1980, the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless has followed a mission to organize and advocate to prevent and end homelessness because housing is a human right in a just society.

About Uptown People’s Law Center: Uptown People’s Law Center (UPLC) is a nonprofit legal services organization specializing in tenants’ rights and eviction defense, prisoners’ rights, and Social Security disability.

About Butler Rubin: Formed in 1980, Chicago-based Butler Rubin assists clients nationally and internationally in complex business disputes, including antitrust law, class actions, defense of corporate directors and officers, labor and employment law, reinsurance, insurance, healthcare litigation, and insolvency.