Chicago Sun-Times, Mark Brown: Ald. Cappleman orders Salvation Army to stop feeding the poor in his North Side ward

By Mark Brown, Columnist

Ald. James Cappleman (46th) informed the Salvation Army on Friday that it is no longer welcome to feed the poor in Uptown from its homeless outreach trucks.

Cappleman gave the social service agency one month to find a new North Side location — outside his ward — before ceasing operations, said Capt. Nancy Powers, who oversees the Salvation Army’s homeless program in Chicago.

“He decided he felt the unit was pulling homeless into the area, and he does not want us to feed them,” Powers told me.

Powers said the Salvation Army will depart willingly.

“We don’t want to be where we’re not wanted,” she said.

But Powers expressed concern for those living in the neighborhood who rely on the truck for a daily hot meal — which the agency uses as a lure to connect the homeless with its social workers.

This ought to clear up any lingering doubts as to Cappleman’s motivation in seeking to close the Wilson Men’s Hotel, one of the city’s last two cubicle hotels, the subject of several recent columns.

He’s obviously decided to rid the 46th Ward of unsightly poor people — with a not entirely dissimilar approach to the one he has employed to disappear pigeons.

When I wrote about the pigeon situation (remember the Indiana farmer and his “pigeon shoots,”) I thought Cappleman was just a little aggressive. Now I’m starting to think he’s downright dangerous.

For his part, Cappleman told me via email Friday: “We continue to be concerned about the plight of the homeless, especially during these cold winter months. As the Salvation Army mobile outreach unit tapers off, we are working with other social service agencies to try a new approach that we believe will be more effective with empowering these individuals experiencing homelessness to get out of the cycle of homelessness.”

Naturally, Cappleman did not identify these “other social service agencies” or this “new approach.” Nor did he give a direct answer to my questions about whether he blames the feeding program for bringing the homeless into his ward — or what he thinks is wrong with feeding them.

“There’s always the question of the chicken or the egg,” acknowledged Powers, who went out of her way to avoid casting this as a fight with Cappleman.

I’m well aware of the conundrum surrounding services to the poor. The agencies who do a good job of providing those services try to locate in the areas where they see the most need, but others argue the availability of the service then attracts more who need it.

That has long been a bone of contention in Uptown, where a decades-old pocket of poverty has given rise to some of the city’s most well-established social service agencies, which in turn are seen by some residents as an obstacle to neighborhood revitalization.

Powers said the Salvation Army began bringing its mobile outreach unit to Uptown at the request of Cappleman’s predecessor, Ald. Helen Shiller, soon after its creation in 2009.

While Salvation Army personnel serve up bowls of hot soup, two social workers specializing in substance abuse and mental health mingle with the crowd and try to forge relationships with the homeless to identify those who are ready to get off the street.

A “chaser van” goes along to immediately transport anyone who is ready to enter rehab or go to the hospital.

Operating from a location at Wilson and Marine, the unit feeds 100 people on average at midday Monday through Friday, Powers said. In recent years, most of those lining up for food have been residents of nearby single room occupancy buildings who can’t afford to eat, she said.

Cappleman informed the Salvation Army it was welcome to continue to provide the social workers, but not to feed anybody.

Powers said the program won’t work that way.

“[The food] is our calling card to get people to come to us,” she explained.

The mobile outreach unit also operates daily from four other locations in the city. In addition, the Salvation Army operates mobile feeding trucks that go to 22 other sites — but with no homeless support. The Uptown location is the only North Side site.

Powers said she has been in discussions with Cappleman about his concerns for several months, but that he delivered his final decision in a meeting Friday, word of which leaked out to me.

The Salvation Army will ask other Lakefront aldermen to provide a location to fill the void.

As a “licensed clinical social worker,” Cappleman claims special insights into how to deal with the problems of poor people. I guess that’s why he treats them like pigeons.