A homeless community in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood stood its ground Monday just before city crews were scheduled to clean the sidewalk where they sleep each night.
During a Monday morning press conference, eight Chicagoans living in tents under the bridge where Lake Shore Drive passes over Wilson Avenue said the city has been harassing them for weeks. They said the city is targeting them with scheduled street cleanings. During those cleanings their tents and belongings are thrown out, they said.
The homeless individuals living there held Monday’s press conference to bring awareness to their battle with the city and to help protect themselves from being displaced.
“In 2017, the city came down and took tent city away,” said Thomas Gordon, who lives under the bridge and calls himself the “mayor” of this tent city. “People out here want housing. Most of the people who sleep on the street want housing. Give us housing or leave us alone.”
The city’s Department of Streets and Sanitation has been posting notices for street cleanings for weeks. On Monday, city employees cleaned the sidewalk and picked up garbage. They also asked the men and women living under the bridge if they wanted to go to a homeless shelter.
None of the tents were removed. The homeless individuals living there temporarily moved their tents and possessions before city employees cleaned the sidewalk.
The city’s Department of Streets and Sanitation allows homeless individuals, who are on site during cleanup efforts, to keep their belongings. Only unclaimed items and trash are discarded, according to a statement released Monday evening by a department spokesperson. “The City of Chicago conducts scheduled cleanings along parkways and public spaces to protect the health and safety of residents, while respecting the rights of homeless populations in the area.”
Gordon said he’s been waiting years for the city to provide housing. He said Uptown is his community, and he’s not going anywhere. The 61-year-old said the bridge protects them from snow and rain. Gordon said he doesn’t understand why the city is trying to push them out.
“They want to harass us. We’re not doing anything,” said Joanne Nutes, the only woman living in this homeless community. She said she’s been on the Chicago Housing Authority waiting list for six years.
“We’re not moving. We’ve got friends here,” said Nutes, 49. “I wish they can just leave us alone.”
Several neighbors arrived Monday morning to support the homeless community. They held signs and brought food for them.
Chicago had 5,657 homeless people in early 2017, according to a city report on homelessness. WBEZ documented the struggles homeless Chicagoans face when they live in tents in public spaces like the community under the viaduct on Wilson Avenue.
María Ines Zamudio is a reporter for WBEZ’s Race, Class and Communities desk. Follow her @mizamudio.