Lawsuit will continue that contends Uptown viaduct redesign discriminates against homeless people

Attorneys for homeless residents evicted from living in tents under the Wilson and Lawrence avenue viaducts will continue a lawsuit contesting the discriminatory redesign of Uptown viaducts, now undergoing reconstruction.

At a court hearing Monday, attorneys that include the CCH Law Project withdrew a request for a temporary restraining order, noting that the issue was moot because the hearing was set several hours after the city carried out the 7 a.m. eviction.

The lawsuit contends the re-design violates the Illinois Homeless Bill of Rights because it “discriminates against (viaduct residents) solely because they are homeless. The city’s current design plans were drawn with the purpose of intentionally preventing plaintiffs and other homeless individuals from returning to the viaducts after the repairs are complete.” 

Plaintiffs Carol Aldape and Thomas Gordon are represented by attorneys from the Law Project at CCH, Butler Rubin Saltarelli & Boyd LLP, and Uptown People’s Law Center.

The current re-design puts bike lanes onto the sidewalks where homeless people have lived from 2009 until Monday’s eviction. However, the redesign is not in line with best practices in transportation planning, the lawsuit contends. Lawrence Avenue is traveled by 15,500 cars and Wilson Avenue by 8,700 cars each day.

Roads with fewer than 19,000 cars a day can accommodate motor vehicle traffic with one lane of traffic plus a bike lane on the street in each direction. Wilson and Lawrence have two lanes in each direction. A design that places the bike lanes in the street would be safer for pedestrians, bikers, and motor vehicles, the lawsuit contends.

At the Sept. 18 court hearing, Cook County Circuit Court Judge Celia Gamrath said that people living under the viaducts had found a temporary solution for their homelessness, not a permanent solution. The judge added that the state’s homeless bill of rights “is not a mechanism to give them superior rights” to other people.

“The Homeless Bill of Rights does not provide superior rights, but it does protect them from targeted discrimination,” said Robert Hermes, an attorney with Butler Rubin.

The judge said the city of Chicago “made great strides” in finding alternatives for displaced viaduct residents.

The city is placing 23 viaduct residents in housing through unused vouchers that remained from a 2016 pilot – advocated by CCH – that eventually placed 53 of 75 viaduct residents identified last year. A city attorney, Andrew Worseck, said the city would consider helping plaintiff Thomas Gordon with the cost of storing his belongings. Carol Aldape was offered foster care for her dogs while she lives in an assisted living facility, looking for longer-term placement.

For the 20 to 25 other people displaced by Monday’s eviction, the city offered to move people to Pacific Garden Mission – located eight miles away in the South Loop – or 10 shelter beds for men at nearby North Side Housing. But those who tried to remain in the area by camping nearby were threatened with arrest by a large group of Chicago police officers present during the Monday morning eviction.

CCH attorneys representing the Uptown residents are Law Project Director Patricia Nix-Hodes and Staff Attorney Diane O’Connell.

– Anne Bowhay, Media