AVONDALE — As a construction project designed to keep homeless people from living at a Kennedy Expy. underpass nears completion, the transients who found shelter there have been sent on their way.
The belongings of several homeless men were removed Friday morning from the underpass near Belmont and Kedzie avenues. Police and officials from the city's Streets and Sanitation and Human Services departments were present during an "off-street cleaning" of the underpass.
“Whatever you can carry, it’s got to go,” one Streets and Sanitation official told Steve Gadsby, 44, who said he has lived sporadically beneath the underpass for the last three years.
Bedding and other possessions of the transients who were not at the underpass when city workers arrived were tossed into garbage bins.
“Anybody who’s homeless knows that if they’re not around when the city comes through, they’re going to take your stuff,” said Gadsby, wrapping his various belongings in a large blanket as city officials swept, shoveled and carried debris to a garbage truck parked at the site.
Installation of more than a dozen pitched concrete barriers designed to keep the homeless from sleeping between expressway support columns in the underpass is nearly complete, a project that came in response to complaints about the encampment from some area residents.
The action came after a meeting with representatives from the Illinois Department of Transportation, Chicago Department of Transportation and other city officials in October 2013, according to 35th Ward Ald. Rey Colon, who ordered the cleanup June 3.
A homeless outreach representative from New Community Covenant Church, Kimmy Noonen, was on hand Friday during the underpass street-cleaning, hoping to offer services at the church’s Logan Square shelter to evacuees.
“I personally think it’s better for the homeless and the neighborhood to keep the sidewalk clean,” Noonen said. “But once the barriers are up, it’s pretty much a definite that the police will come through and make arrests.”
Noonen called the barriers "unsafe.” The height and density of the structures effectively makes the underpass a "chunnel" blocking views from either side of the street, she said.
She added that moving the homeless from the tunnel is "really just pushing the problem along” as the transients find other outdoor shelters to sleep in.
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