Chicago Sun-Times, Mark Brown: ‘These services are needed out here’

Mark Brown talks to people who depend on the Salvation Army in Uptown‘Hi, I’m Ronnie. I’m living in my car.’

We can’t print what some homeless men say about Ald. Cappelman’s efforts to ‘help’ them

By Mark Brown, columnist

The Salvation Army’s food truck went about its business in Uptown per usual Monday, undeterred by a weekend dustup with Ald. James Cappleman (46th) about the future of its feeding program for the homeless.

One by one, men ambled out of the Uptown neighborhood or slipped over from the lakefront late Monday morning to visit the truck at the corner of Wilson Avenue and Marine Drive for a cup of hot soup.

Some were aware of the controversy. Most weren’t. All were puzzled as to why anyone would question the value of what the Salvation Army is doing there.

“Are you serious? How come?” said Carl Waller, 60, when asked about Cappleman’s short-lived effort to halt the Salvation Army’s feeding program.

“Is that the same alderman who is trying to close the Wilson Men’s Hotel?” Waller asked.

Assured that it was, Waller offered a few choice but unprintable words for the alderman.

Turns out Waller has lived for years at the Wilson, one of the city’s last two cubicle hotels, which makes him a two-fer in Cappleman’s campaign to remake the 46th Ward. Waller says the Wilson is all he can afford.

Here on one hand we have Cappleman trying to get tough with the Salvation Army, questioning whether the charity is creating a “disincentive” to get the homeless off the street by feeding them. And on the other hand, he is trying to close down a place that is all that separates a lot of men like Waller from joining the ranks of the homeless.

I’d call that a disconnect, except that it all fits nicely under the category of moving the poor out of Uptown, which is an agenda openly and understandably embraced by some neighborhood residents, but not Cappleman, who maintains he wants to help the poor.

“Is he going to add to the homeless population by throwing those people out?” said Waller, moving slowly with his cane as he balanced his soup in the other hand.

Waller told me he was going to the bus stop to eat his soup. I warned him to be careful because Cappleman also has introduced an ordinance making it a crime “to enter or remain in” a bus shelter unless waiting for the next bus.

No joke. Cappleman calls it Unlawful Use of a Bus Shelter.

The ordinance is apparently aimed at keeping the homeless from sleeping in bus shelters. You can certainly understand the alderman not wanting anyone making a bus shelter their home, but you have to question the value of issuing them a $200 fine. There’s not much to be gained by criminalizing homelessness.

But Waller was safe. He really was going to catch the bus, and anyhow, the City Council hasn’t approved the ordinance—yet.

While most of those who came to the Salvation Army truck were there for the food, a few like Al Miller huddled with two caseworkers to see if they could help him find housing.

Miller, 60, a Vietnam vet, said he’s lived on the streets of Uptown for years and sleeps in the park. He looked it. His full beard was about the only thing visible under his soiled hooded parka.

“There’s about six of us. We watch each other’s back. You can’t live in this park by yourself,” Miller said.

Now, though, he’s ready to come in from the cold.

“This is it. I’ve had it,” he said.

And Miller knew from experience he could turn to the Salvation Army for help.

“I come here almost every day,” he said.

Miller credits the Salvation Army workers with previously having straightened out his veteran’s benefits to help him to obtain a $32,000 check for back pay. Instead of using the money to obtain housing, however, Miller said he put it toward paying off his daughter’s college and to help her ward off foreclosure.

“I feel good I did that,” he said.

I told him what Cappleman had said about the food truck being a “disincentive” to people like him to get off the streets.

“That’s a lie,” Miller said. “All I can say is there’s wrong and there’s right, and that’s wrong.”

As I headed back to my car, a fellow rolled down the window of his parked car and beckoned me over.

“Hi, I’m Ronnie. I’m living in my car,” said Ronnie Whaley, 57, a veteran and former emergency room technician, who told a fairly typical story of losing his job, eventually getting evicted, staying with friends and finally having no place to go.

That was two nights ago. Since then, he had been sleeping in his Ford Taurus. He dissolved into tears as he told his story.

“This is my first time,” he said, meaning first time being homeless.

Whaley, too, conferred with the Salvation Army’s social workers and was waiting for a phone call he hoped could at least connect him with a homeless shelter for the night.

“These services are needed out here, desperately needed out here,” Whaley said.

By the way, have you heard about Cappleman closing the single-room occupancy Chateau Hotel in Lakeview, too?

You soon will.

Al Miller gets his soup from SalvatiArmy truck thwas parked Marine Drive WilsMonday March 4 2013. | Al Podgorski~Chicago Sun-Times

Al Miller gets his soup from the Salvation Army truck that was parked at Marine Drive and Wilson on Monday, March 4, 2013. | Al Podgorski~Chicago Sun-Times

Carl Waller gets his soup from SalvatiArmy truck thwas parked Marine Drive WilsMonday March 4 2013. | Al Podgorski~Chicago Sun-Times

Carl Waller gets his soup from the Salvation Army truck that was parked at Marine Drive and Wilson on Monday, March 4, 2013. | Al Podgorski~Chicago Sun-Times

Ronnie Whaley who is  living inside his car  is homeless Uptown neighborhood.  | Al Podgorski~Chicago Sun-Times

Ronnie Whaley, who is living inside his car and is homeless in the Uptown neighborhood. | Al Podgorski~Chicago Sun-Times