Protesters confront Uptown alderman about homelessness

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Santiago Covarrubias

Protesters marched through uptown, angry over the neighborhood’s homelessness.

By Jordan Watkins

Angry protesters advocating for better treatment toward homeless people marched through Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood Nov. 9 before ending the rally at the office of Alderman James Cappleman (46th ward), who represents the neighborhood.

Protesters claim Cappleman is responsible for a spike in the neighborhood’s homeless population and that he instructed police to ticket homeless individuals for pitching tents near Wilson Avenue and North Lake Shore Drive, as reported Sept. 28 by The Chronicle.

The rally started south of West Wilson Avenue between North Marine Drive and North Clarendon Avenue in the park that some people call home. About 50 participants took to the streets chanting “Hands off the homeless” and “Hey, hey, ho, ho, this dirty alderman’s got to go.”

“Using our police to shoo people off the streets is the wrong approach,” said Anne Sullivan, a former secretary and North Side resident. “Fix what put the people on the streets.”

Sullivan said Uptown has lost more than 1,000 low-income housing units since Cappleman took office in 2011.

“Homeless people have been living under the bridges here for years, but there [are] a lot more here now,” Sullivan said.

Alan Mills, executive director of the Uptown People’s Law Center, said the city lacks a reasonable plan to deal with homelessness.

“I am appalled that the City of Chicago has decided [the way] it will solve its homelessness problem is not by providing homes but by sending out the police,” Mills said.

He added charging homeless people with crimes exacerbates the problem because those affected end up with criminal records.

“We are short on housing everywhere except Cook County Jail,” he said.

The protesters first marched to Cappleman’s home, where they continued chanting for about 10 minutes before rallying at his Uptown office, just a few blocks away on North Broadway.

Upon entering Cappleman’s office, protesters were met by Cappleman and his chief of staff, Tressa Feher, who welcomed them but attempted to keep them quiet. Tensions between the protesters and Cappleman’s office escalated when he attempted to respond to their demand that he give half his salary to homeless people.

Andy Thayer, co-founder of the Gay Liberation Network and an organizer of the rally, said before entering the office that the protesters did not plan to listen to any response from Cappleman. “He’s just going to lie,” Thayer said.

Cappleman said he gives “a substantial amount of [his] salary to a number of charities,” which was met by shouts that he should donate more. The protesters also demanded he reprimand police officers who they say violated homeless individuals’ rights.

“Will you pledge before these cameras that you will call for the discipline of every police officer who is abusing the law?” Thayer asked. “That’s a yes or no question.”

Cappleman responded by urging the protesters to file complaints with the Chicago Police Department.

In an interview after the protesters left the office, Cappleman said he understands their anger, but he does not think it should be directed at him.

“I hear the anger—I’m angry too,” he said. “I had been begging the Department of Family Support Services to come up with a plan to deal with chronic homelessness.”

Cappleman, a former social worker,  said he founded a homeless shelter in the ‘80s for people with HIV and said homeless people suffer from a “grossly failed system” that is not doing enough to help them get off the streets.

According to Cappleman, the city is not taking action on its plan to end homelessness, titled “Plan 2.0.”

“Its not being implemented, and that is a disservice to those people living on the streets,” Cappleman said.

He also said claims that he directed police officers to ticket the neighborhood’s homeless people and clear them from parks were false.

“Aldermen do not direct police,” he said. “It’s not true; it’s never happened.”