By Mark Brown, columnist
The Chicago Coalition for the Homeless threatened Wednesday to file suit against the city over two planned Lake Shore Drive viaduct construction projects that will displace long-time Uptown homeless encampments.
In a letter to Corporation Counsel Edward Siskel, lawyers for the coalition accused the city of intentionally discriminating against homeless people in the design of the new underpasses at Lawrence and Wilson avenues.
The projects include installing bike lanes on the sidewalks where homeless people now pitch tents, effectively preventing anyone from returning there after the work is complete.
The coalition is demanding the city provide permanent housing for everyone currently living beneath the two viaducts and to re-design the planned work to avoid narrowing the sidewalk.
The city has said previously it expects construction work to begin in September. No deadline has been announced for removing the tent residents.
One of those who will be displaced is Carol Aldape, a 68-year-old grandmother who has lived under the viaducts since early May.
Aldape told me she lost her lease in a nearby Marine Drive apartment when the owner decided to sell.
She was unable to find another apartment in the area that would accept both her Section 8 housing voucher — and her two dogs, Bella and Chief.
Aldape decided it would be better to live on the street than to give up her pets, so she rode her electric scooter over to the Lawrence Avenue viaduct and asked to “see the manager” about the cost of renting a tent.
Informed there was no manager and that the tents were free, Aldape decided it was the “answer to my prayers,” which speaks more to her desperation than the modest accommodations.
“It was scary the first couple nights — and cold, too,” she told me Tuesday night sitting outside her tent, the dogs safely inside.
Yet Aldape seems genuinely grateful for this meager lifeline while she seeks another option.
Aldape said she suffers from multiple sclerosis, diabetes, heart trouble and a bad back. With her doctors nearby at Weiss Hospital, she is determined to stay close.
“I guess they expect me to get worse with the MS as time goes on. But that’s in God’s hands,” she shrugged.
It was the bad back that forced her to retire from work and go on Social Security disability.
Before that, she’d spent 20 years working in a nail salon. She also held jobs at Dominick’s, as a waitress and at an animal shelter.
Aldape was never married, but raised one son. She said she doesn’t know whether he knows she’s homeless, but doesn’t want to bother him.
“We’re sort of on the outs,” she said, then after a pause: “We’re on the outs. I do things my way. We really don’t talk. I’d rather he do his life. He came through me, not to me. I can take care of myself, basically.”
Aldape said she has no other remaining family, but has good friends in the neighborhood who “make sure I’m OK.”
She said she was homeless once previously, but back then, there was a women’s shelter in the neighborhood that has since closed. Shelters aren’t an option this time anyhow, with her dogs.
Aldape’s family moved here from Nebraska when she was 6 and lived above a Near North tavern that was torn down to make way for a Sandburg Village high-rise. In the years since, waves of gentrification have pushed her from Lincoln Park to Lakeview to Uptown.
“It’s all gone the same. It’s prime property, and I’m sure they want it for the prime people,” she said.
Eventually, city officials will step up to help Aldape, I believe.
What I worry about more is what happens to the next person in her situation who won’t even have the survival option of pitching a tent under the viaduct because the “prime people” want a bike lane.