Just a few weeks ago, Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood lit up with debate over whether it should maintain services for the homeless as it has for several decades. In particular, 46th Ward Ald. James Cappleman and the Salvation Army disagreed over whether the charity organization should continue distributing free meals every day from its mobile food unit at Wilson Avenue and Marine Drive. The two sides say they have since patched over their differences.
WBEZ interviewed some clients of the food truck while the issue was hot. One of them was “Jack,” who declined to share his last name but said he slept under the Wilson Avenue viaduct. “Not everybody has jobs out here, so it does help. It helps a lot,” Jack said, adding that he appeared at the truck almost every day.
Well, in a piece that ran over the weekend in the Sun-Times, columnist Mark Brown focused on arbitrary evictions of the homeless who sleep under the Wilson Ave viaduct. In it, Brown mentions the death of one of those men, a Jack King, who had left the viaduct some days earlier because of the street sweeps. King was found dead March 13 outside a health clinic on Wilson Avenue.
WBEZ has confirmed that this is the same “Jack” we interviewed just six days before his death. During that interview, which we include here without edits, King vented frustration at treatment he said he received at the hands of police for staying under the viaduct. “They took my blankets, rugs I had laid out,” he said. “Maybe they get brownie points for that, I don’t know.”
King said he felt the hostilities began once Cappleman came to office. “He don’t particularly care too much about us,” Jack said. “He’s trying to kick people out of here and there, and you can only chase a person that has nowhere to go so far. There’s got to be something, you know?”
In an emailed response to WBEZ about King’s assertion that the evictions heated up under Cappleman’s watch, Cappleman wrote:
“Since taking office, I've encouraged the Department of Family and Support Services (DFSS) to check on the individuals living under the viaduct and in the parks on a regular basis. I've organized regular outreach missions where staff from my office and the 48th ward office, DFSS, and I walk through the park together in the early morning to talk to these individuals to see if we could encourage them to come indoors and take advantage of the programs and services the shelters provide. We've successfully found housing and employment for quite a few of these folks. The gentleman who died is sadly probably not the only person we've lost from problems with drinking and other drugs. If this gentleman had taken advantage of the programs and services available to him he may still be here today. He's the reason why I encourage DFSS to continue to check on these individuals. Everyone deserves a warm bed a safe place to live."
King told WBEZ that he didn’t receive meals from other agencies in the Uptown area because many of them required enrollment in a full-service program to help the homeless. “There’s a lot of circumstances I don’t want to go into, [but] some people don’t qualify,” he said. “I happen to be one of them.” One of King’s friends who sleeps under the viaduct, Gregory Guest, told WBEZ that King had an alcohol addiction.
According to the Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office, King was discovered outside a health clinic at 855 W. Wilson Ave., not far from the viaduct. His cause of death was hypertension and arteriosclerotic cardiovascular disease.
Odette Yousef is WBEZ’s North Side Bureau reporter. Follow her at @oyousef.