Uptown marchers promote rights for homeless residents

By Metro Reporter

A diverse group of protesters marched to Alderman James Cappleman’s (46th Ward) office the night of Oct. 3 in solidarity with the homeless population in Uptown.

Many of the neighborhood’s homeless live in Uptown’s “Tent City,” a collection of tents located under the Wilson Avenue and Lake Shore Drive viaduct. The community claims to be facing police harassment and threats from the city to take away members’ tents and belongings.

Homeless shelters in the area were also closed, while tax increment financing funds being given to luxury housing developers, according to several protesters.

They were referring to the city council’s approval of a $15.8 million subsidy for a planned high-rise at Clarendon and Montrose avenues at the site of an abandoned hospital, according to Curbed Chicago, June 22, 2016. TIF funds are used to build and repair roads and infrastructure, clean polluted land and put vacant properties to use, usually in conjunction with private development projects, according to the City of Chicago’s website. 

Ryne Poelker, one of the main organizers of the event with North Side Action for Justice and Uptown Tent City Organizers, said he wants the homeless people of Uptown to receive more respect than he did when he was homeless.

“I used to be homeless, and Uptown for me was the one place in the whole [city] where I could afford an apartment and get out of homelessness,” Poelker said. “We’re out here supporting homeless people having the right to have tents—the right to have belongings without harassment or criminalization.” 

At the starting point of the march, under the viaduct, five-year resident of “Tent City” Don Rico shared his frustration with the current situation of the homeless in Uptown.

“I saw on TV the other day, they gave the City of Chicago $28 million to get 600 or more police cars,” Rico said. “We’re underneath the bridges here, struggling [and] doing what we do. We don’t cause any problems—we’re just homeless.” 

Participant Paul Latture, an Uptown resident, said he hoped the march would bring awareness of the police harassment the homeless are experiencing.

“I hate seeing people being harassed just because they’re homeless,” Latture said. “Police come and try to take their belongings away from them to discourage them from staying under the viaduct. It’s terrible.”

Prior to the event, speakers from North Side Action for Justice, Uptown Tent City Organizers and Black Lives Matter spoke at the viaduct and shared their thoughts on the current situation for homeless in Uptown. 

Aisling Sol, a Black Lives Matter activist, said she was disappointed with Chicago’s use of funds and said the city is withholding resources that could possibly help homeless people survive. 

“Somehow, they don’t have money for the $100,000 necessary to keep a shelter open, but they found $15 million to build a luxury high rise,” Sol said. “This is a political problem, not a financial problem.”

Event organizers discussed the five demands they were bringing to Cappleman that night: Stop the city’s harassment of the homeless, fully fund existing affordable housing, fund a “housing first” strategy for the homeless, end public funding for luxury housing and add more diverse members on the Zoning and Land Use committee.

The large crowd of protesters marched from the viaduct to Cappleman’s office, chanting “Housing is a human right, not just for the rich and white.”

Once the protesters reached the office, only a small number were allowed in before police shut the door. 

“When a homeless person dies in the city of exposure, we’re putting it on your neck, alderman, because your policies are literally killing people,” said Andy Thayer, Uptown Tent City protest organizer and Gay Liberation Network activist, inside of the 46th Ward office. “You’re shortening people’s lives, you’re ruining their health by forcing them to be out there because you can’t even fulfill the promises of your weak-ass press releases.” 

Before 7 p.m., Cappleman, with the help of police officers, attempted to remove protesters from his office. The alderman told protesters he had to leave because of a prior commitment to work on a presidential campaign that evening.

“Thank you for your feedback,” Cappleman said. “There are some disagreements. I’m always willing to talk, but I have a place to be at seven . . . so it’s time for you all to leave.”

While most left at Cappleman’s request, three protesters refused to leave the ward office.  Poelker, Thayer and Marc Kaplan, an activist with North Side Action for Justice, all said they were charged with criminal trespassing. The Chicago Police Department did not confirm the arrests as of press time.

“We know this is a long war, not just one battle,” Thayer told The Chronicle Oct. 4. “We were able to really elevate the issue of this harassment of the homeless.”

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