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Housing-rights activists protest Cappleman's office
by Matt Simonette

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Several dozen advocates for the homeless gathered Sept. 25 at the Uptown offices of 46th Ward Ald. James Cappleman.

The protesters came to denounce the treatment of some 75 individuals who, until the week of Sept. 18, had been residing beneath the viaducts at Lake Shore Drive and Lawrence and Wilson avenues. Those persons were subsequently evicted from additional sites over the course of the following week.

According to the city, the evictions took place because of needed bridge repairs, but bicycle lanes are going in under the viaducts, eliminating any possibility of future encampments there. Several members of the LGBT community have been active in work around the issue, among them Andy Thayer of Tent City Organizers, who led the protest. Activists accuse Cappleman, who is gay, of only paying lip service to the Uptown homelessness issue and maintain that he is in league with developers looking to gentrify the neighborhood.

Shortly after the protest began, Cappleman emerged from his office and asked if anyone had questions. Thayer replied that they had no interest in conversing because, "We are sick of your lies." The crowd began chanting, "Results, not words," and Cappleman returned to his office. A few persons went in to speak with him, but people said that at some point the office door was locked.

A statement released by Cappleman's office said that, "Alderman Cappleman and the city's Department of Family and Support Services have been taking action to help those who had been living beneath the Wilson and Lawrence viaducts access food, shelter, mental health services, addiction treatment and medical care." [The statement is included in its entirety below]. Among those actions mentioned in the alderman's statement were connecting residents to shelters, among them one activists have said is not welcoming for LGBT persons.

Supporters of the Tent City residents are demanding that a permanent space for residents to pitch their tents now be provided. Thayer maintained that the Tent City residents were targeted because of their high visibility under the viaduct. The protest occurred because, "We're bringing that visibility back."

Speaking in the direction of Cappleman's office, Thayer warned, "This is going to rag you all the way to re-election day. Remember what happened to [Cook County State's Attorney] Anita Alvarez [who was voted out of office]."

Abdul Jones, a former resident under one of the viaducts, spoke about his struggle to find housing. He also laid much of the blame on the area's housing problems at the feet of Mayor Rahm Emanuel, maintaining that the city has not released funds specifically marked for housing assistance.

"They've got the money," Jones said. "We're one of the richest countries in the world."

Thayer closed by urging supporters to keep up the pressure, saying that the city had taken notice, even if they hadn't reached a desired result. "The only reason the City of Chicago went through the motions was because of people like you."

Note: Ald. James Cappleman's office released the following statement to media outlets on Sept. 25:

Alderman Cappleman and the city's Department of Family and Support Services have been taking action to help those who had been living beneath the Wilson and Lawrence viaducts access food, shelter, mental health services, addiction treatment and medical care.

Recent actions have included:

— Hosting a Sept. 8 event next to the viaducts where those living below the viaducts were connected with multiple providers, including emergency shelters, mental health and substance abuse treatment centers and medical care;

— DFSS visits to the viaduct three times a week for the past 18 months;

— Providing placement in shelters including Northside, Cornerstone and Pacific Garden Mission;

— Locating permanent housing for 53 people, bridge housing—an intermediate step to permanent housing, but not a shelter—for 21 people, and shelter for five people in the past 18 months.

Alderman Cappleman also continually works to increase the amount of affordable housing and provide shelter to those in need in the ward and in the city of Chicago. His efforts have included:

— Leading the push for a Housing First pilot program that will serve as a model for other city programs;

— Requiring a 4 percent surcharge on all Airbnb rentals in the city to assist the city's homeless;

— Receiving grant funding for Inspiration Corp. to provide case management to those living at the Wilson Men's Hotel;

— Preserving affordable housing units in the ward, which has the highest number of government-subsidized affordable housing units in the entire city;

— Adding more affordable housing units in the ward including: 45 Chicago Housing Authority units and 22 Low Income Housing Trust Fund units ( for individuals making 0-30% of the AMI ).

— Ensuring that when the R.E.S.T. shelters closed, providers such as Sarah's Circle and Northside Housing & Support Services took over the shelters, resulting in an increase in the number of beds and in the quality of care.

— Approving a zoning change and government funding for a new Sarah's Circle facility in Uptown, which will provide new permanent housing for 38 homeless women and a new facility for their existing 50-bed women's shelter.

— Approving construction of a new shelter in the 46th Ward, Apna Ghar, which is the only domestic violence shelter in the Midwest dedicated to the needs of immigrant women.

Although the 46th Ward ranks No. 1 with the most government-subsidized affordable housing in the city of Chicago, more subsidized housing is needed for people experiencing homelessness. All leaders need to step up to increase the amount of affordable housing for the most vulnerable residents of our city. All Chicagoans should have access to safe housing.

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