Chicago Sun-Times, Mark Brown: Alderman sees food trucks as ‘disincentive to those in need’

By Mark Brown, Columnist

(Updated 10:34 p.m.) Ald. James Cappleman (46th) issued a statement Sunday in essence saying I had it all wrong and blaming the Salvation Army for creating a misunderstanding about his intentions toward its feeding program for the homeless.

This would be the same alderman who wants us to believe he had no idea the Indiana farmer he enlisted to trap pigeons was going to take them back to shoot them.

This would also be the same alderman who insists his only interest in shutting down the city’s last men-only cubicle hotels is out of concern for the welfare of those who live there.

And this is the same alderman who waited more than 36 hours after I informed him Friday exactly what I was writing before saying it wasn’t true — an assertion he never made in two previous emails to me — until after the story blew up in his face.

So who do you think I’m going to believe — Cappleman or the nice lady from the Salvation Army who was deferential to the alderman at all times in trying to explain his decision to run her mobile food truck operation out of Uptown.

Notably, Cappleman waited to speak out until after the nice lady, Capt. Nancy Powers, director of the charity’s Harbor Light Center, announced she had changed her mind and wasn’t going to abide by his one month deadline to leave the 46th Ward.

Initially, she had told me the Salvation Army would depart its Uptown feeding location “willingly,” not wishing to offer its services anywhere it wasn’t wanted.

But after my column appeared online, Powers said she was flooded with calls and emails from other social-service providers and city officials urging her to stand up to the alderman.

“All of them were saying: Please don’t leave. They definitely need your services,” said Powers, who oversees the charity’s homeless program.

After discussing the matter with her boss, Powers said she decided to reverse course.

“We agree. There is a strong need there. We’re not going to give up on these people,” added Powers, sounding much happier than when I spoke to her Friday.

In an email accompanying his latest statement, Cappleman told me he had “never said anything about leaving or deadlines” to the Salvation Army.

In the statement itself, for some reason, Cappleman doesn’t actually say that.

Instead, he goes on at some length about how he has been trying to get Salvation Army to work with him on “new approaches” to assist the chronically homeless and to show him some statistics to prove that its program truly helps get the homeless into permanent housing.

“I was concerned that the mobile food truck was providing a disincentive to those in need to receive sustained help,” Cappleman wrote in what I consider to be the most telling sentence.

In other words, the alderman is worried that the feeding truck makes it too easy for the homeless to stay homeless by supplying meals so close to where they stay.

It’s the Do Not Feed the Pigeons theory of dealing with homelessness.

Don’t make it so easy for them to survive in the wild — in the parks or under the viaducts — and they’ll move on with their lives or just plain move. The other alternative, of course, is that they’ll die off, which I know would make some folks just as happy.

As a clinical social worker by training, you must understand, Cappleman thinks he knows better than the people who are out there delivering these services and just trying to help folks survive.

Cappleman also said he wanted to “clear up the misconception that anyone would go hungry without” the Salvation Army truck. He said there are at least six soup kitchens in the 46th Ward where anyone in need of food could go instead.

That may be, but for some reason about 100 people each weekday find their way to the Salvation Army’s truck location at Wilson Avenue and Marine Drive for a midday meal. The spot is in the shadow of Lake Shore Drive and just across from the park.

Back on Friday, Cappleman declined to explain his reasoning to me, beyond a statement expressing concern for the homeless and suggesting he has a better approach to helping them than the Salvation Army.

Cappleman accused the Salvation Army representatives of storming out of the meeting he called Friday.

Powers declined to continue the back and forth through the press, saying she has requested a meeting with Cappleman on Monday to try to find “common goals.”

One common goal would be to make this dispute disappear.