Despite soggy streets and winter cold, more than 200 people crowded the street in front of 46th Alderman James Cappleman's office March 6, protesting what they allege is a hostile attitude toward the neighborhood's poor.
Protesters took up nearly a full city block outside 4544 N. Broadway, Cappleman's Ward office.
The protest stems from a Chicago Sun-Times report alleging that Cappleman ordered the removal of a Salvation Army Mobile Food Truck. Cappleman denies that he asked the truck to leave, stating that he wanted to work with Salvation Army on reducing chronic homelessness.
But those statements did not appear to quell long lines of protesters who marched chanting, "Food and housing is a right, not just for the rich and white," while major media outlets looked on.
Cappleman has come under fire in recent months for what critics allege is a lack of commitment to affordable housing and social services.
Cappleman, a licensed social worker, said he wants to improve conditions for his ward's poor, not drive them out.
But efforts to shutter the Wilson Men's Hotel, a cubicle hotel that Cappleman says is not suitable for habitation, as well as his stance on the closure of single room occupancy (SRO) Chateau Hotel have set housing activists on edge.
Chateau Hotel in Lakeview was recently sold, and housing activists want Cappleman to push to keep the building an open SRO, housing those who cannot get apartments due to finances or bad credit, among other things. But Cappleman said the building is uninhabitable and that because it is a private deal, the fate of the building is out of his hands.
Still, the Chateau is the latest in a string of SRO shuttering on Chicago's North Side, and those closures have drawn increased protest against aldermen who do not leverage their power in favor of SROs.
Lori Cannon, a founder of Vital Bridges Center on Chronic Care (formerly Open Hand) and longtime HIV/AIDS advocate, said that such closures are severely impacting some of her clients.
"[Wilson Men's Hotel] is a deplorable place to live in, but it you ask the clients, they're grateful to have a place to live and a place to take a shower," said Cannon.
Cannon said she recently learned one of her clients living in the Chateau had been transported to a mental health facility, stemming from the stress of being forced to relocate.
Andy Thayer of Gay Liberation Network (GLN) was also among those protesting. Thayer, an Uptown resident of 25 years, noted that GLN has been protesting Salvation Army over anti-gay stances for years.
"And Cappleman was never there," he said. "No, he's dissing on the Salvation Army for the wrong reasons."
Capt. Nancy Powers, head of the Salvation Army's homeless program in Chicago, previously told the Sun-Times that Cappleman, "decided he felt the unit was pulling homeless into the area, and he does not want us to feed them."
But Cappleman says that he never asked the truck to leave. He said that he met with Salvation Army as he did with other service providers, asking them to strategize on making the most of the neighborhood's resources.
Cappleman said it was Salvation Army representatives who walked out of the March 1 meeting.
But on March 6, just before the protest began, Cappleman and Powers sat down to talk about the meeting. They exited the meeting just as the protest began.
Both sides reported that they had come to an agreement.
"We both agree that there is more work we all can do to combat this problem [of chronic homelessness]," Cappleman said in a statement. "We both also agree that it's time for all social services in the 46th ward to come together and work together."
Powers skirted reporter questions over whether or not Cappleman had in fact asked the truck to leave or stop feeding people, but said that "good things" would result from the meeting. Powers said she felt Cappleman wanted what was best for the ward.
For now, the Mobile Food Truck, will stay put, she added.
"It's the best soup in town, and you can quote me on it," she said.