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Chicago homeless, advocates confront Ald. Cappleman
by Gretchen Rachel Hammond
2015-11-10

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Almost 200 individuals experiencing homelessness and their advocates marched on 46th Ward Ald. James Cappleman's Uptown home and, then, his office Nov. 9 to protest what organizers called "an apparent campaign to drive [homeless] people out of Uptown."

The temperatures were already hovering around freezing when people began to gather at the Cricket Hill Park on the corner of Wilson Avenue and Marine Drive—a place where the homeless of all ages try to find respite from the cold, often sleeping under the Lake Shore Drive viaduct.

"The police come unannounced at 2 am in the morning with garbage trucks and roust us and tell us whatever we can put on our backs and take with us is fine," Robert—who has stayed under said viaduct since 2010—told Windy City Times. "A lot of times, they throw the rest of our stuff in the trash. Not just clothes, but medication and personal documents. They just say they are doing their jobs and look down their noses at us."

Robert said he was evicted from his apartment after he could not pay the rent. He added that shelters like Cornerstone that were available to him were unsanitary, racist and dangerous.

"You just do it," he said. "You get enough clothes and blankets and you take one day at a time. You have people who are found dead out here. There was this one guy Jack who lived under the viaduct for a while. He walked down to the CVS and they found him in a stairwell."

Laura Schwartz has been homeless for three years. "Mr. Cappleman wants to make this neighborhood the next Gold Coast," she told Windy City Times. "They're throwing our property away. They're harassing us, threatening us. Waking us up in the middle of the night. What's going on is very wrong."

Like Robert, she agreed that the few shelters with single-occupancy room (SRO) services available make matters worse. "The staff does not know how to control the people living there," she said. "I've endured mental and physical abuse. I've been threatened. I've had steel chairs thrown at my feet."

Robert claimed that he and others have tried to approach Cappleman about the issue numerous times. "We've gone to his office and he's never available," Robert said. "He doesn't want to claim responsibility. I'm not a criminal. I'm homeless. A lot of us just had a bad break. Cappleman wants to close the shelters down. Where are we supposed to go? If Cappleman had to spend a day out here living like we did, he'd know what it is like."

Gay Liberation Network co-founder Andy Thayer was one of the co-organizers of the march along with Northside Action for Justice, Uptown People's Law Center, Uptown Uprising and Uptown Chicago Rocks.

"This is a long battle," Thayer told Windy City Times. "Cappleman has been purging low-income housing from this ward ever since he was elected to office. We have lost over a thousand units of private, low-income housing—more than the rest of the city combined."

Cappleman preempted the march with a press release from his office. "I share many of the concerns about the impact of the police sweeps on our homeless neighbors," he wrote. "Primarily, the sweeps are a short term tactic that do not address the underlying cause of widespread homelessness."

He said he is 'the number one advocate in the City Council to put funding forward toward the implementation of the City's 2.0 Plan to End Homelessness."

"Actions speak louder than words," Thayer said. "There has not been a single new unit of low income housing built in this ward since Cappleman became alderman. We don't believe whatever he says. If you give people decent housing first, then you can deal with all the other problems that come with homelessness. The worst thing you can do is precisely what Cappleman is doing—sweeping people out, illegally using the law, citing ordinances falsely to intimidate and scare people from under the viaducts and the parks. People need to hold Cappleman and the police accountable."

"As an attorney, I am appalled the City of Chicago has decided that the way it will address the homeless problem is not by providing homes but instead by sending out the police," Uptown Peoples Law Center Executive Director Alan Mills told the crowd. "Instead of providing them with housing, we are arresting them, we are giving them a criminal record. We are making it impossible for them to even get into housing if they have a criminal record. This is not the way you deal with social problems. When Cappleman ran the first time, he made a written pledge that he would sustain all existing affordable housing in Uptown. He lied. We are short of housing except at the Cook County Jail."

Cappleman told Windy City Times after the protest that he must follow the city's affordable housing ordinance, and he can't block the sale of mark rate single-room occupancy properties to a private company.

Cappleman also told Windy City Times that he is not directing the police to do any of the sweeps, and that if a citizen calls the police, the police must respond to the complaints.

The marchers took their message from Cricket Hill up Wilson Avenue, followed by two Chicago Police Department (CPD) patrol cars.

At the corner of Hazel Street and Wilson, a member of the CPD attempted to move them to the sidewalk. The marchers refused and continued along the streets to the gates of Cappleman's apartment, chanting, "Hands off the homeless" and "Cappleman has a home, but what about homeless people?"

In his release, Cappleman stated that he would not be at his home but at his Broadway office, "meeting with constituents of my ward, as I always am on Monday evenings."

So the protestors took their message there.

They crowded into the warm surroundings, demanding that Cappleman emerge. When the alderman did, he was confronted by Esteban Burgoa, a veteran of the 2003 Iraq War now experiencing homelessness.

"I was homeless for two years," Burgoa told Cappleman. "No food, no heat. I learned to survive because of my training."

"Good for you," Cappleman replied.

"No—not good for me," Burgoa stated, becoming increasingly more frustrated. "I'm here because I swore to protect the constitution of the United States. When I hear about people harassing the most vulnerable, it's a shame."

"So what's your question?" Cappleman asked.

Burgoa wanted to know if Cappleman was prepared to take a pay cut in order to help provide housing for his Ward's homeless individuals.

"I pledge to work with other City Council members and the Department of Family Support Services," Cappleman said.

"Just tell me yes or no!" Burgoa demanded.

"I give a substantial amount of my salary to a lot of different charities, including women who've experienced domestic violence," Cappleman replied. "I will continue doing that."

Thayer challenged Cappleman to call for the disciplining of police officers who are intimidating homeless people.

"Whenever there's any allegations of misconduct, all aldermen have to go through a process called the Independent Police Review Authority," Cappleman said. "If anyone has witnessed a police officer acting in an illegal manner, I encourage everyone to follow the process that is already in place. You must file a report."

The protestors were becoming increasingly angry and turned their backs on him crying "Hey Hey, Ho Ho/Cappleman has to go!"

Cappleman's aide called an immediate end to the meeting.

The protestors were ushered back out into the night, vowing that Cappleman had not heard the last from them.


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