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.