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City Clears Homeless Encampment From Former School Site

Louis Jones had been living in a tent outside the shuttered Graeme Stewart Elementary School, but on Monday city workers put up a fence and ordered everyone living in tents to leave.

Jones called another nearby tent encampment to recruit help with the move.

The city said it gave advanced notice to those living outside the former school at 4525 N. Kenmore Ave.

But there were still 13 tents left Monday as workers from the Department of Family & Support Services handed out black trash bags and cards with shelter information.

The city puts up a fence around the former site of Steward School, where Uptown residents have been living in a homeless encampment. Alderman James Cappleman said construction on the site would make it an unsafe area for people to live in.(Shannon Heffernan/WBEZ)

Jones, who said he wanted to help get everything out, dialed another number: “Find as many men as you can. Tell them I need them up here. All of them.”

Mark Saulys, who said he lives in a nearby Wilson viaduct homeless encampment, was one of the men who came to help. He pointed to a tent he said belonged to a man named Conrad, who was at work.

“He is a hard working man. Family man. His family comes to visit him down here. Sober gentleman. And he is not here,” Saulys said. “Looks like he is going to lose everything. What little he has.”

Saulys wanted to move Conrad’s belongings somewhere safe, but Conrad’s tent is locked.

Saulys and others attempted to pick it up, but it was too heavy. They eventually decided to fiddle with the lock until it opened. The group said they were going to find a safe place to move Conrad's belongings until he got back home -- or what counts as home for now.

Stewart School was one of the 50 public schools closed in 2013. The tent encampment started a short time later. In 2015, the former school building was sold to a developer that plans to build residential units.

Harrison Ellis, who had lived outside the building for about a month, rolled up his blankets and tucked them under his arm.

Harrison Ellis packs up his tent, as the city clears out the homeless encampment and builds a fence. He says he is a long-time resident and even worked at Steward school cleaning classrooms. (Shannon Heffernan/WBEZ)

“They are fitting to turn it into a condos and they could have helped the homeless,” Ellis said.

He said he used to work at the school, cleaning classrooms and hallways.

“I never thought I’d be camping out in front of the school I worked for,” Ellis said.

Most of those living outside the building said they wanted to stay near Uptown. They said they were born in the neighborhood, have doctors in the neighborhood and even sent their children to Stewart School.

But many from the tent encampment said it is getting more difficult to stay in the place they call home. A nearby a shelter and a Single Room Occupancy building are both slated to close this year, and nearby tent encampments under the viaducts are getting full.

As the homeless chatted about where to move their tents, some suggested camping in front of 46th Ward Ald. James Cappleman’s office at 4544 N. Broadway.

“If push comes to shove, that's what I'll probably do,” Ellis said. “Put it in front of the alderman’s office and let him understand that we are neighborhood people too. We are in this neighborhood.”

Cappleman said the site in front of Stewart School is a safety hazard as the developers move forward with construction. Cappleman noted the Uptown area continues to have the most subsidized housing for those with little to no income, and said he will continue to push for more funding.

Shannon Heffernan is a WBEZ reporter. Follow her @shannon_h.


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