By Mina Bloom
UPTOWN — In response to Ald. James Cappleman’s (46th) recent remarks about how the city needs to do a better job of addressing homelessness, the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless shot back by publishing a letter saying the alderman “systematically reduces low-income housing in favor of a gentrification strategy” and “regularly vilifies” the homeless, among other things.
In the June 7 letter, the organization said Cappleman “implied that CCH has not fought for housing to help eradicate homelessness on our streets” when he made a comment about the organization at the State of Uptown Luncheon a couple of weeks ago.
Cappleman said while it was “commendable” that the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless fought for homeless people’s rights to sleep outside, he’s “fighting for the right to sleep inside.”
The alderman was referring to the February settlement of a legal case that resulted in a new city policy, which protects the homeless living underneath Wacker Drive and Wilson Avenue viaducts during street-cleaning sweeps. The city must now give them 24-hour notice.
The letter goes on, saying: “If you’re puzzled, you should be: Yes, Cappleman is the alderman you’ve read about who systematically reduces low-income housing in his ward in favor of a gentrification strategy. He regularly vilifies those who live on the streets, as he did at last week’s luncheon, blaming homeless people for ‘preventing economic growth.'”
The organization also pointed to a 2013 dustup, when Cappleman made headlines for asking the Salvation Army truck to stop giving food to the needy.
Lastly, the letter alleges that the alderman’s office has “not once” reached out to the organization to “encourage assistance for the homeless, join our efforts for increased funding or to find solutions.”
But Tressa Feher, Cappleman’s chief of staff, denied that claim, saying she has “sat in meetings, in our office, with CCH staff on a number of occasions.”
“Alderman Cappleman has and will continue to fight for coordination of homeless services in the 46th ward, more affordable housing and harm-reduction shelters,” she added in an email.
Since 1980, the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless has been advocating for public policies that curb and ultimately end homelessness, according to its website.
The organization blamed a lack of funding for the city’s inability to create sufficient housing for the homeless.
“It is our expectation that the city must fulfill its obligation embodied in its Plan to End Homelessness 2.0 to create sufficient housing for those who are homeless and living on the streets. The plan is not adequately funded by the city, which has more than 20,000 people in its ‘Central Referral System’ awaiting affordable housing,” the letter reads.
“It’s simply wrong to blame those on the street for the systematic lack of adequate housing.”
Chicago needs “increased investment in proven evidence-based strategies,” according to Mark Isaug, CEO of nonprofit organization Thresholds, which provides healthcare and housing for people living with mental illnesses across the city and state.
And it needs to come from both the local and federal government, he said in a written statement.
“There are cities across the country that have ended chronic homelessness, and Chicago can be one of them,” the statement reads.
Isaug said that requires two things: more affordable housing and outreach services.
“[Homeless people] have lots of understandable fear, so engaging them in services requires a sensitive, compassionate approach. It may take longer, but the results are more sustainable and long-lasting. These proven solutions are better for everyone involved,” the statement reads.
One of the city departments that Cappleman accused of not coordinating its efforts is the Department of Family and Support Services.
In response to Cappleman’s remarks, a department spokesman said in a written statement that the agency “provides shelter and services to more than 3,000 persons per night in both our shelter and interim housing programs, taking a service-oriented approach to our homeless clients on the streets.
“Every day DFSS strives to balance the needs and rights of homeless Chicagoans with the legitimate concerns of other neighborhood residents about safety and cleanliness,” the statement reads.